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Other reviewers seem to be comparing this delightful old film with standard streamlined products of the 40s and later. But "Spitfire" belongs to an older tradition, and it's a rare example of theatrical naturalism translated to film. Naturalism was always a dicey affair, attempting to study real (i.e., non-glamorous) people in folksy environments, and usually failing because written by authors of "a class above" for sensational purposes. I found this quaint vision of hill folk very appealing, representing a kind of nostalgia for Americana imagined although never real--yet nevertheless enjoyed by mainstream audiences. The young Hepburn gives an awkward but dazzling performance, fully inhabiting her naïve, sentimentalized Trigger Hicks, delivering her lines in a vigorous and truly delicious stage "Hillbilly" dialect. Don't miss a chance to travel on this strange, charming time machine.
Though the role of Trigger Hicks in Spitfire turned out to be
disastrous commercially for RKO and did nothing to help the career of
Katherine Hepburn, it's still an interesting experiment when seen
today. Especially seen by fans who regard Kate as a feminist icon.
Trigger Hicks is about as far as you can get for a role from the most well known graduate of Byrn Mawr in history. Kate's an illiterate hillbilly lass who is a mountain faith healer, respected by many and feared by more for her alleged powers.
Two who don't fear here are a pair of engineers sent to the Ozarks to build a railroad, Ralph Bellamy and Robert Young. Hepburn unfortunately falls for the married Young who of course doesn't tell her of his marriage to Martha Sleeper.
In her own way Trigger Hicks is as much an independent spirit as Tess Harding or Pat Pemberton or any of the other more sophisticated women that Kate later portrayed. I'm sure she thought of the film as expanding her range a bit even though it didn't quite stretch in that direction.
Still it's interesting to watch.
Any chance to see Katharine Hepburn in something I haven't seen or from her early movie career is a treat, and on that level the film is amusing, but she's horrible miscast as a Hill Billy. Her famous New England enunciation slips through, making lines like, "I'd better rustle up some Vittles" pretty ludicrous. She's so pretty and so young it almost overcomes this major flaw. The story is an old fashioned melodrama, and there fore, a younger generation may think this pretty corny stuff, but this was the staple of American Entertainment well into the 1940's. It has its moments, but you might need to be a die-hard movie buff to appreciate it.
Yes, this is one of the weaker Hepburn RKO films, but instead of the
truly horrible film I expected, I thought it was not as bad as is
I like mid-1930's movies, and I'm a big fan of Hepburn. I'm always fascinated watching favorite actors doing unusual roles.
One of the reasons she took the part is due to her obvious talents as a sportswoman....can you imagine someone like Ginger Rogers in the role? Constance Bennett?
I was pleasantly surprised at Sara Haden's performance. She in support of scores of movies, and this role is one of her biggest parts. She's first-rate.
All in all, a very minor film, but if Warners ever gets around to releasing Hepburn's RKO films on DVD, this is one that I will buy.
There are some good things about Katharine Hepburn's 1934 RKO film,
SPITFIRE, but they are overshadowed by the film's numerous failings.
However, if you are in the correct mood to witness a "hillbilly"
Hepburn or experience a fun time warp back to a time when a film like
this could actually be made without being laughed at because it is so
ridiculous (oh wait...I think it was!).
Anywho, Hepburn gives a fine, sensitive performance and there are some devastating closeups of her exquisite face. There is a nice subplot about how people can be judgmental of others and assume things which are not true. There was a much too contrived romance between Hepburn and Robert Young, as a city slicker out in the country wooing the "spitfire" hillbilly girl. The catch is he's married, and when she finds out she is heartbroken. The film ends on a good note with a scene of poetic brilliance. Hepburn is leaving, after being scared out of town, but promises to come back in a year for her love (or maybe much sooner, she says, as they share a kiss)! All in all, I was not unhappy I recorded this unusual film, even though stretches of it were boring. The production values seemed high, performances were good for the most part, and the score by Max Steiner was excellent. I was initially intrigued by the film's original poster art, which has great art deco style.
Okay, you have a lame script about a hillbilly girl. She's emotional and
immature, ignert and superstitious, grubby and mystical, with an innocent
yet powerful sexuality. Who do you cast? Perhaps an actress who can
some of those qualities? Possibly someone who can do the accept properly,
maybe someone in the right age group, or even someone whose background has
something in it that would allow her to connect to the character? YOU
but the producers cast the most damnably Yankee actress in Hollywood -
Katherine Hepburn - of New England old money, graduate of Bryn Mawr, officially inducted into the Preppie Hall of Fame, the living embodiment of well-bred hard-headed plain-spoken Yankee common sense, whose best roles are as sophisticated and professional women... cast as a ragged teenage Hillbilly outcast illiterate mystic thought to be a witch by her backwoods neighbors? Hepburn had enough Yankee common sense to try everything possible to get out of doing this role, but the idiots who ran studio had the upper hand and forced her into this little stinker. Her awkwardness shows she knows what a fool she's making of herself, but still gives it the old college try (yuk, yuk), taking this movie from ordinary badness into truly amazing eye-popping badness. I mean, classy Kate Hepburn throwing stones at the neighbors and having bug-eyed visions? You have to see this to believe it.
Without Hepburn the movie would still be terrible (but with her it's funny). It's one of these horrible condescending scripts about how ignernt and cruel them backwoods white trash is, and how being ignernt and immature is kinda sexy in a purty girl. Eeew.
(Note: Way funnier than her second-most spectacularly miscast role. In 1941 she played a Chinese peasant woman in "Dragon Seed". It's not nearly as funny, being just a bad war-effort film, it's rather dull and this one is absolutely daffy.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I enjoyed this to a point. It's certainly an ODD Little film
I was trying to understand where it was going. I stayed with it to see what the ending was going to be -- I expected Trigger would somehow die in the end.
Hepburn was funny as Trigger. I don't think that was intentional, but I laughed at her odd syntax and slang. She was gorgeous too; a bit too good looking for someone missing a few meals every day.
Ralph Bellemy's "Mr. Fleetwood" was the nice guy and while he was the 'Boss' over the damn project he was liked by all his workers. Isn't that an odd thing?
Robert Young's "John Stafford" was a jerk. I was a bit annoyed at his flirtation with this Hepburn's Trigger since he was supposed to be married and he hid that fact from her. I guess that is how his character was supposed to come off for Trigger to learn how deceitful even 'city folk' could act.
The religious overtones are interesting but grind to a halt late in the film. I don't understand why Trigger burned her 'Sunday School' cards.
The movie intrigues the viewer but leaves too many questions.
A movie like this, best forgotten, wouldn't even merit a review but
doing so gives insight to the trajectory of a 50 year career where the
roles Hepburn selected were done with rigorous calculation to
circumvent her limited acting range and showcase her talent to best
advantage. And this strategy served her admirably. Katharine Hepburn
was lauded with four Best Actress Oscars and reigns as an uncontested
In "Spitfire" Hepburn is a ruffian, soulfully driven to do "good works," practicing the healing arts and offering prayers for her neighbors. She saves the life of a dying child, which only alienates her further from the good graces of the rural folk whose superstitious distrust brand her a witch. Hepburn attacks her character of the misunderstood and maligned Trigger Hicks with the zeal of an amateur actor, flailing unmoored with discomfort trying to give life to this backwoods girl. Her attempt at producing the speech of rural primitives is a tortured amalgam of verbiage, a parody of hick talk. Always beneath the surface percolates an East Coast swank that manages to now and then, disconcertingly, pour out of her mouth. The end product is Katharine Hepburn trying to insert herself into the character of Trigger Hicks somewhat analogous to stuffing a diamond into an egg crate.
Robert Young and Ralph Bellamy, two engineers on project assignment in this hillbilly haven are inserted as romantic interest but their relationships with the heroine are ambiguous and never fully developed. Not much to be said about this. The two men's involvement with Trigger appears more like an academic exercise, a fascination with a girl who to them is just a touching cultural oddity.
Recipient of an Academy Award, in 1933 for "Morning Glory," Hepburn's place in the Hollywood pantheon of achievement only gained momentum through her fortuitous pairing with Spenser Tracy. With Tracy she played roles whose characters were close to who Katharine Hepburn was off the movie screen. Tracy representations of the no nonsense "everyman" provided the perfect foil for Hepburn's insolent finishing school personage. And Hepburn excelled when she could play herself, i.e. the independent out-spoken woman with social pedigree. When she had to diverge from this comfortable template, her performances were forced and heavy handed. Her partnership with her "better half" Tracy made Hepburn a star.
Katharine Hepburn as a mountain woman who mixes prayer with positive thinking--and is thought by the local folk to be a witch. Kate works overly-hard trying to convince us she's a backwoods hick (named Trigger Hicks!), but you can see she doesn't even believe in this unintentionally comical scenario. Constantly-smiling Robert Young plays a foreman working on the construction of a mountain dam who becomes Trigger's first crush...but alas, he's married! No amount of white magic can resuscitate this formula, based on a play and brought to the screen by R.K.O. with too broad a hillbilly flourish. It is ungodly, and just about unwatchable. *1/2 from ****
It's a tribute to the great Katharine Hepburn that despite RKO casting
her as an Okefenokee swamp hillbilly in "Spitfire," where she plays a
character named Trigger (formerly mainly known as Roy Rogers' horse),
Hepburn managed to have a magnificent and long career. A role like this
would a brung down a lesser filly an' she'd a bin hog-tied an' on her
way home on the horse that brung her.
Trigger, anyway, lives in a shack with her drunken pappy, lives on faith and is actually a faith-healer. Her neighbors think she's a witch. Two engineers, John Stafford (Robert Young) and George Fleetwood (Ralph Bellamy) meet Trigger and try to help her after she steals a baby in order to heal him. Both engineers end up falling for Trigger, though John is married and his wife shows up.
Katharine Hepburn's finishing school accent doesn't mix well with mountain talk. This is dreadful miscasting. The film is based on a play, and this was probably a new kind of play that didn't deal with the upper class, so it required a more natural style of acting. There's no denying that Hepburn was a fantastic actress, and she certainly can play the emotions called for in this role. But it's a bad fit.
Sidney Toler, who played Charlie Chan, appears in this film and speaks with the same that thar back-slapping accent as the rest of them.
Odd film, probably an odd play, with a odd cast.
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