KATHARINE HEPBURN: Star as Feminist

Andrew Britton, Author . Columbia Univ. $54.50 (256p) ISBN 978-0-231-13276-3 ISBN 978-0-231-13277-0

Hepburn's film persona challenged expectations of class and gender, while her strong self-assurance defied the strictures of Hollywood studios during her career. According to Britton, a British film lecturer before his death in 1994, Hepburn's public image was replicated—in part—by her film roles. Yet that same brash confidence, coupled with the social conventions of the day, dooms her onscreen characters, who are validated only when they find contentment with men. Britton combs Hepburn's oeuvre for signs of subversive feminism and points out the studios' successes at undermining them. But his thesis doesn't live up to his title. Although a close examination of such films as Sylvia Scarlet , Stage Door and Woman of the Year impart some insight into the gender politics of the day, much of Britton's analysis is labored and his conclusions are strained (and, at times, overwrought, as when he claims that casting Hepburn as the controlling mother in 1959's Suddenly, Last Summer was a reaction to her role as a daughter rebelling against patriarchy in 1932's A Bill of Divorce ). The book, published in England in 1984, displays Britton's encyclopedic knowledge of film. He assumes his readers are similarly familiar with everyone from D.W. Griffith to Hal Ashby. In addition, he expects them to know Jacques Lacan's writings, Marxist politics and sophisticated gender identity theories. Academics may not mind Britton's leaden prose, but researchers will be frustrated by his lack of attribution. B&w photos. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/10/2003
Release date: 03/01/2004
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