I picked the wrong Katharine Hepburn movie for her day. Sorry, but I found Morning Glory to be a lesson in tedium swathed in furs and jewels. The backstage drama has been examined in countless films (I spent an entire week covering Busby Berkeley‘s far superior examples in the genre), and Morning Glory adds nothing new to the conversation. Katharine Hepburn won her first Best Actress Oscar, and her performance of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet is worth it; the rest of the film isn’t.
Eva Lovelace (Hepburn) is a struggling actress yearning for her breakout role. With the help a womanizing Broadway producer (Adolphe Menjou) and a host of others, Eva finally sees her dreams of stardom coming true.
The tale of “struggling actress makes good” has been seen in countless movies, and Morning Glory is a derivative take. At a hasty hour and thirteen minutes, there’s absolutely no room for character development or any development for that matter. The script is over an hour of lengthy dialogue discussions where Eva details her life, her upbringing, her dreams of the theater. If the movie was longer these could have been fleshed out into flashbacks to give Eva a rounded persona. Instead, it comes off as the movie quickly telling us who Eva is instead of showing. By the time Eva has the chance to act we have one scene (the previously mentioned Romeo and Juliet scene) to remind us; by that time we’ve forgotten the jumble of exposition that’s been heard.
Hepburn is the lone ray of sunshine, giving the audience a taste of her true potential in the scenes where she’s given time to act. The movie goes through rushed stages that need to develop over time. One minute she’s the bright-eyed ingenue, next she’s the hardened actress, and finally she’s a snob. I found myself rewinding to see if months had passed or something, but no; we’re supposed to believe that all of this happened after one party with a bunch of Broadway luminaries and one performance in a Broadway show. In necessitating this schizophrenic persona, Hepburn drowns in a sea of plot contrivances and an undefined character. It’s hard to believe Hepburn as the wide-eyed babe in the woods who knows George Bernard Shaw; from there she’s same character from Stage Door, although lacking the steely resolve and pluck seen in that film; by the time she becomes a snob dripping in furs you have to sit back and take whatever weird twists the plot wants to. The movie wants you to believe she’s a “little girl” (it’s Katharine Hepburn, that’s difficult) only to shove her into the worst of adulthood within the span of 30 minutes. In the end, Hepburn is helpless to change the script in her favor making this one of her worst roles.
The rest of the cast is also lackluster. The normally reliable Adolphe Menjou lacks any zing to his character, content to play an opportunistic Broadway producer. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is also unremarkable as the love interest although I didn’t realize that until the end because the scenes between him and Hepburn aren’t romantic.
There is a fair bit of comedy between the veteran actresses of the show in question, one played by Mary Duncan. The catty atmosphere you expect from Broadway is evident when the two rival leading ladies meet. One tells the other, “You’re gaining weight” only to be told “I’ll soon be your size.” This cattiness is sorely lacking in a film about Broadway, in favor of the cutesy Broadway of Hepburn’s dreams that’s never changed. In fact, the actual Broadway drama doesn’t arrive till an hour in leaving only thirteen minutes to bask in Hepburn’s success, let it go to her head, and have Fairbanks Jr. save her. Like I said, rushed!
I didn’t care for Morning Glory at all. It’s brief runtime feels like a quickie to capitalize on Hepburn’s star power. Her acting prowess is in evidence, but what’s a true testament to her greatness is that she stays awake for this mundane movie.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.