Katharine Hepburn fans--and let's face it, who isn't one?--will be delighted by The Katharine Hepburn 100th Anniversary Collection
. It showcases juicy, sometimes overlooked roles played by the winsome Hepburn both early and later in her career. The set includes 1933's Morning Glory
, for which Hepburn won her first Best Actress Oscar, playing a determined young actress who just knows she's going to make a splash on the stage, and not
fade like, well, a morning glory. The early screwball-era tempo is infectious, and young Kate, though insecure and--Lord help us all--skinny, beats the odds as she forges ahead in her career. Her rapid-fire delivery rivals that in another underrated Hepburn classic, Desk Set
. Up next is Undercurrent
, a gripping film noir that's slow in starting, but gets under the viewer's skin. Hepburn plays against type as an Ashley Judd-style gal-in-peril (or is she?), with a menacing husband (Robert Taylor) and a brother-in-law (Robert Mitchum) whom she may not be able to trust.
Sylvia Scarlett is a George Cukor-directed gem costarring Cary Grant, though Hepburn and Grant are most decidedly not in wacky Bringing Up Baby mode. The film wasn't well received when it was released in 1935, but it's a revelation now, for its daring homosexual subtexts--quite apparent to the modern viewer--and for Grant's against-type dark persona. Without Love, from 1945, is one of the first films to team Hepburn with Spencer Tracy, and yes, their onscreen chemistry is palpable. The conceit is one they would go on to use successfully time and again--plucky single woman resigned to living solo; rumpled, affable, slightly clueless bachelor who only needs to be shown just how much in love with our heroine he is. The supporting cast includes a terrifically cast Lucille Ball and Gloria Grahame.
Dragon Seed (1944) is an honorable misfire, an earnest period drama about the Japanese invasion of China. Through 21st-century eyes, Hepburn's impersonation of an Asian woman isn't great casting, and yet, Hepburn's honest, clear-eyed portrayal saves it from caricature. The Corn Is Green, a TV film from 1979, is an excellent counterbalance to all the brash, dewy-eyed roles in the rest of the set. Hepburn reteams with director Cukor for what is both a showcase for the diva's mighty talent, and yet also a completely even-handed ensemble piece, about a teacher's dedication in a small Welsh village.
Extras are plentiful on this already-packed disc, and include public-service and other shorts compiled by Warner Bros. that provide a window into mid-20th-century life. The short "Traffic with the Devil" (from the MGM Theatre of Life series) showcases the musings of a traffic cop, the real life Sgt. Chuck Reineke, who helps clueless, hapless drivers over what appear to be the wide-open spaces of L.A. highways. As a window to the truly more innocent times in Hollywood, the shorts are priceless. --A.T. Hurley