A Woman Rebels (1936)
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Quite good Hepburn, actually. A perfect part for her- it encompasses all the complex and varied facets of her screen persona. Its surprising this movie didn't do better at the box office. Too political or controversial for 1930's audiences? Herbert Marshall as the love interest is excellent as well.
Although the film deals with a variety of women's issues- discrimination in the workplace for one, the real subject is the shame of having a child out of wedlock. It is hard for modern audiences to appreciate how much stigma was attached to this as recently as 40 years ago. Three lives are profoundly affected by the need to keep this secret.
One negative: the actress who played Hepburn's daughter was a disappointment. Too old and lacking the grace and beauty of Hepburn herself. Just goes to show how rare true star quality is.
I've only seen about 3/4 of the film -- caught it on Turner classic movies channel and got hooked. Don't know what the costuming in the early part of the flick was like, but from the time I tuned in, which covered the mid to late 1860s through the 1890s, I was VERY impressed.
The 1930s and 40's "golden age of Hollywood" was not a particularly good era for accurate costuming in film -- the artistic/visual impact generally seemed to trump any concerns about authenticity. And the 50s, 60's and 70's got broadly worse.
This film stands out from the 1930's crop BIG time.
The 1865-1870 period is difficult to get right and is seldom portrayed -- elliptical hoops, small bonnets, tailored details -- all presaging the "first bustle era" of the early 70's but not yet at the bustle stage. Costume Designer Walter Plunkett gets it right and designed some lovely, authentic gowns. The film seems to flash forward pretty rapidly to the late 1870's to early 1880s "natural form" era and then the 1890s, so both bustle eras are missed out, but the periods he covers, he does RIGHT.
Ironically, this is the same Walter Plunkett famous for his gorgeous, yet woefully inaccurate costumes for Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind -- however, if you look at that film, the costuming for Melanie Wilkes and the supporting & background women is actually pretty good, as are the various male civilian outfits. Alas, the stuff that's most remembered is the stuff that's wrong - Scarlett's clothes and the godawful uniforms.
Suggests to me that the great Plunkett richly deserved his reputation, DID understand historical costuming and must have been working to some broader artistic judgement call on the part of either the director / production designer or producers on GWTW.
With no such constraints on "A Woman Rebels", he did a phenomenal job.
-- Kathryn Coombs Historical Wardrobe, Ltd Historical Entertainment, LLC
The story, set in "England, the middle of the Victorian era," introduces Pamela Thistlewaite (Katharine Hepburn), and her younger sister, Flora (Elizabeth Allen), living in Gideon Gray estate with her widowed father, Judge Thistlewaite (Donald Crisp) and humble Aunt Betty Bumble (Lucile Watson). Tutored by their governess, Piper (Eily Malyon), Pamela, with her thirst for knowledge, questions authority to why "women are inferior to men." Because of her outspokenness towards her disciplinarian father ("If you are unjust as a father, you must be equally unjust as a judge"), Thistlewaite decides to have his daughters introduced to society where they are to meet young men as prospect husbands. During a gathering, Flora meets and falls in love with sailor, Captain Alan Craig Freeland (David Manners), whom she marries and settles to Italy. As for Pamela, she encounters Gerald Waring Gaythorne (Van Heflin) with whom she becomes interested. Meeting secretly in England at Madame Tussand and Sons Exhibition Wax Works, they eventually have an affair before Pamela learns too late that Gerald is married. Keeping her pregnancy a secret, Pamela, accompanied by Aunt Betty, takes time away visiting with Flora, also expecting a child. While at her residence, Pamela meets Alan's guest for the weekend, Thomas Lane (Herbert Marshall), with whom Pamela becomes good friends. When Flora later learns Alan has been killed in an explosion at sea, the shock causes her to lose both her child and life. Raising her daughter as Flora's child, Pamela returns to England where she breaks all barriers by seeking employment. She finally lands one at Ladies Weekly Companion where she submits articles to William C. White (Lionel Pape), her publisher. After meeting with a young woman (Molly Lamont) struggling through life with a baby and no husband, Pamela, who sees herself in this girl, takes a stand by writing articles on woman's suffrage titled "Shame of Civilization" to instant success. While Lane wants Pamela as his wife, she turns him down so not to have her past ruin his political career. Years later, as her "niece" grows to womanhood, young Flora (Doris Dudley) meets and falls in love with a young man part of Pamela's hidden past, later leading to a scandalous trial.
Considering the many novels and motion pictures bearing the theme of women birthing children out of wedlock and raising it as a child of another, A WOMAN REBELS offers nothing new in that regard, yet it's a wonder why it didn't prove successful at the box office. Weak scripting/ unsatisfactory conclusion, perhaps. Dreary underscoring, maybe. Time period? Not quite. Three years later, Bette Davis starred in THE OLD MAID (Warner Brothers, 1939) bearing a similar theme in same basic era, this time on American soil during and after the Civil War, resulting to something much better and highly effective. Hepburn, most noted for costume dramas as LITTLE WOMEN (1933) and THE LITTLE MINISTER (1934), was facing a career slump by this time, following previous failures as SYLVIA SCARLET (1935) and MARY OF Scotland (1936) to her name. While Hepburn's first mother role might or should have shown great promise, it only added insult to injury to being her third flop in a row.
Of the Hepburn flops, A WOMAN REBELS, one of her lesser known and discussed projects from the 1930s, is actually better to some extent, with honorable mention to Donald Crisp's forceful performance of a cold-hearted, stern father treating his children with indifference because they're females. David Manners, Hepburn's love interest in her screen debut of A BILL OF DIVORCMENT (1932), has little to do in his final movie role. For Van Heflin and Doris Dudley (who sometimes resembles Joan Fontaine), both in film debut performances, only Heflin, given the film's most memorable line, "Hatred can hold two people together more stronger than love," went on to become as a accomplished actor with Academy Award best supporting win to his name in the 1940s. According to Bob Dorian, former host of American Movie Classics, where A WOMAN REBELS aired regularly prior to 2000, Hepburn wore 22 different Walter Plunkett designed costumes covering the Victorian England era (1860s to 1890). Costumes may have been the fashion for Hepburn, but its authentic historical Victorian-era setting gives this another plus. While Hepburn was allowed to age through the process, the make-up department avoided the common overplay of white hair and extended wrinkles over a more natural approach. Herbert Marshall, who comes late into the story, makes a satisfactory suitor who claims, "These modern women are so weak." Elizabeth Allan's meek sister role, though small, equally balances that of Hepburn's forceful manner.
Once available on video cassette through Blackhawk Video in the 1980s and currently on DVD through the TCM Archive Collection, A WOMAN REBELS can be found whenever shown on Turner Classic Movies. (**1/2)
Kate and her sister Elizabeth Allan are being raised as proper Victorian ladies by their widowed father Donald Crisp which means no rights at all. Liz dutifully accepts her lot, but not Kate. Liz accepts David Manners a young naval lieutenant as a husband picked out by Crisp, but Kate has a fling with Van Heflin that's left her pregnant. And Heflin's engaged to another proper Victorian lady to boot.
Kate goes off to Italy to live with her sister while Manners is on duty. Allan is also expecting, but after Manners is killed in action, Allan dies of a broken heart. On Allan's deathbed she and Hepburn decide to raise Hepburn's expected as her niece rather than her daughter.
Back in the United Kingdom, Hepburn goes to work for a woman's magazine and under her direction the publication becomes a feminist manifesto for its time. Still old sins have a way of coming back to haunt one and they do Kate in a most peculiar way.
Herbert Marshall is in A Woman Rebels as Kate's faithful suitor and British nineteenth century diplomat. He looks earnest and faithful much like a pet collie, but in fairness the role isn't all that much.
One can certainly see what attracted Hepburn to A Woman Rebels. It's very message was parlor talk in the Hepburn household when she was growing up. Still the film does have a lot of unresolved situations, mostly due to the Code being firmly in place now and flexing its censoring muscles.
Kate's co-star Van Heflin was pretty unknown at this time and she would pick him to co-star with her as well as Joseph Cotten in The Philadelphia Story when Hollywood pronounced her box office poison. Though she didn't pick him for the screen version, she was the one who got him an MGM contract when she went there and from there Heflin became a star.
A Woman Rebels is a story which probably would have been better told now than back in the day. Perhaps someone like Gwyneth Paltrow will take up where Kate the Great left off.
This was the film debut of Van Heflin, and I have never understood just how became a popular film actor. I still don't after seeing his first film. On the other hand, it was interesting seeing a young Herbert Marshall, long a favorite of mine. Elizabeth Allan -- why was she this homely in this film...she usually was quite attractive...perhaps the hair style. Katherine Hepburn does very nicely here, but be sure to remember how she looked as a young girl at the beginning of the film, compared to the mature lady at the end of the film...a remarkable transformation.
Interesting photography of coastal Italy...or as we call it, Carmel, California. ;-) Very worth watching to see why this (and a couple of other flops) made Hepburn "box office poison". I can see why it may not have been popular back in 1936, but it wears well, and is great if you're a fan of either Hepburn or Marshall.
With a tempting cast of Kate Hepburn and Herbert Marshall, and a strong title to boot, this movie was a frustrating disappointment. The actors seemed cast adrift in a ship without a rudder. "Woman Rebels" was shown as part of the recent TCM special on Kate Hepburn's birthday, with early pre-code movies from the 30's and 40's, when she was already in her mid-twenties, and it followed the 1933 Dorothy Arzner classic "Christopher Strong." Now THAT is a movie with a solid script and a director who knew what she wanted to say and what to do with her stars. It's no accident that the director was a woman.
In "Woman Rebels," the story, which is pretty simple but appears to have been written by committee (three writers are credited), still left certain details dangling, such as why does her stern and unforgiving father (Donald Crisp, here woefully underused and misdirected) appear only in the beginning and inexplicably at the end? or exactly whose baby was she raising, and why aren't we(or she) clear about it? Or take the casting; besides the principals, Hepburn's "daughter" is played by an actress (Elizabeth Allen) who, when grown up, looks older than her aunt (Hepburn) who is supposed to be twenty years her senior. That bothered me constantly.
As for Herbert Marshall, he is given a simpering one-dimensional role, supposedly of a diplomat, that relegates him to merely standing in the wings commiserating, while Kate does her "rebelling" by running her newspaper and commenting on social issues. The latter is all well and good, but the context is so limited, and the supporting roles all so weak that we are pained to watch her.
One wonders how Hepburn accepted this role after putting in such a sterling performance at age 26 (and only her second film) for Arzner in "Christopher Strong." That movie should have been named "A Woman Rebels," instead of giving the title, as others have noted, to Kate's love interest-- her friend's father, a gentleman also ultimately and sadly too weak in character to match her strength (wouldn't you guess that he would ask her to give up flying and not care a hoot that she might be pregnant?) The daring plot of "Christopher Strong" must have been startling at the time, and even today, it can be viewed with some wonder at the taste and delicacy with which it was done. Reviewers mention that Kate's role in that was modeled after Amelia Earhart, but I believe it is closer to Beryl Markham ("West with the Night") in its daring and literate spirit. Juxtaposing that 1933 film with "Woman Rebels" makes one rue the fact that even after taking ten steps forward, only three years later she would have to take fifty steps backward. Hepburn would have to wait almost ten years to be paired with Spencer Tracy before making a recovery film worth her salt.
The movie is set during the mid-late Victorian era. Pamela (Katharine Hepburn) and her sister Flora have a father (Donald Crisp) who is extremely cold, detached and loveless. He also is angry because Pamela wants more out of life than was typical of a woman of the day. She wants to read, educate herself and be something other than just a dutiful wife...and he is determined to marry her off like her sister. However, Pamela falls for a rogue and soon finds herself pregnant. To hide this, she goes to stay with Flora...and when Flora's husband dies as does Flora, Pamela pretends that her new baby is her sister's. She also does the unthinkable...she gets a job and eventually becomes a very modern and emancipated lady.
This is a very well made film but as I said the notion of a single mother must have not sat well with folks. Worth seeing and among the actress's better early films.
However, audiences of the time stayed away, leading Ms. Hepburn to be famously labeled "box office poison" before she would prove her critics wrong by establishing herself as one of the greatest actresses in the history of the medium.
The cast includes several familiar actors and actresses including Herbert Marshall, Donald Crisp, Lucile Watson, and Van Heflin.
A young Pamela Thistlewaite (Hepburn) tells her younger sister Flora (Elizabeth Allen) not to cry when their cold and tyrannical widower father, Judge Thistlewaite (Crisp), lectures them. He insists that their homely, serious governess (Eily Malyon, uncredited) teach them that, as women, they should accept their role as subservient inferiors to men. Another live-in servant, Betty (Watson), isn't so sure and resists the Judge's "orders" in passive aggressive ways. The Judge decides it's time to introduce his daughters to society so that he can select appropriate husbands for them. Pamela tells Flora that she must marry for love and, fortunately for her, she falls for a Lieutenant Alan Freeland (David Manners) of whom her father approves.
Meanwhile, Pamela is swept off her feet by Gerald Waring (Heflin). They have an affair after which Waring confesses that he's a married man, afraid to divorce his wife for the scandal which would cause his father, Lord Gaythorne, to cut off his means. So, Pamela runs away to Italy with Betty to visit newlyweds Flora and Alan, who's stationed there.
On their way, Betty and Pamela embarrassingly meet Thomas Lane (Marshall), a diplomat who turns out to be a house guest of the Freelands. Pamela and Thomas spend some quality time together before he and Alan must return to duty in England and at sea, respectively. Pamela confesses to Flora her love for Waring as well as her growing physical "condition".
When Flora later learns that Alan was killed at sea and conveniently falls down the stairs, ending her own pregnancy, she suggests a "solution" to Pamela's predicament before she dies: Pamela can pretend that her baby is Flora's, that she's raising it for her departed sister.
Returning to England with Betty and the child, also named Flora, Pamela is pleasantly surprised by Thomas, who assists them with getting a goat (e.g. for fresh milk) aboard their boat. She then tells him that she plans on living alone and working, a foreign concept at the time. Actually, Betty lives with her, effectively raising young Flora through the years.
Eventually, Pamela finds work writing for a women's magazine, which up to that point had never employed a woman! Her relationship with Thomas blossoms to the point that he proposes but, fearing a scandal which might ruin his career if anyone were to find out the truth about young Flora, she gently declines, though they remain friends through the years. The magazine she works for publishes articles about cooking and sewing until one day, when its editor (Lionel Pape, uncredited) is ill, inspired by a penniless woman in a similar predicament who kills herself, Pamela writes a scathing article about the puritanical society that "caused" it. Rushing in to stop the presses, the editor is surprised to learn that, instead of he being arrested, London's women are clamoring for more issues of the magazine. Hence, Pamela becomes the voice of the oppressed woman and is so successful that she eventually establishes her own magazine.
Meanwhile, young Flora (Doris Dudley) has grown up. Irony of ironies is the fact that she falls for Gerald Waring Jr., meaning the truth of Flora's parentage is bound to come out.
Perhaps the weakest part of the film is this final third act which includes a meeting between Gerald Sr. and Pamela for the first time in 20 years that leads to consequences she couldn't possibly foresee, even though its ending is decidedly upbeat if perhaps a bit too pat.
Only two years after the production code came in, this film dared to cover the subject of unwed mothers with dignity and class. Even though it never mentions it, the subject is obvious, particularly with a young woman who visits Hepburn at the newspaper to get help for her ailing child, only to send her a cryptic letter later with tragic overtones. "Shame!" Hepburn screams at society in her column, ripping up the oh-so important story on needlepoint, "a career for respectable women", the print-out insinuates. Hepburn continues to raise her niece alone, keeping secrets when the young girl begins to date Heflin's grown son and becomes involved in scandal brought out by his vindictive wife.
Along the way, Hepburn meets the dashing Herbert Marshall who stands by her through thick and thin. Their first encounter is hysterically funny as the stubborn Hepburn finds herself an adversary in a non-moving mule. Who do you think will win this battle? Crisp disappears for much of the second half of the film, but when he returns for a conclusion to the shattered father/daughter relationship, it is heartfelt and emotional, helping you understand the hardness of the patriarch of an earlier generation who simply didn't know how to bring girls up alone in a masculine dominated era.
A woman rebels:one of the girls wants a firm independence of men or at least she wants to marry someone she loves;the hints at "Romeo and Juliet" are not gratuitous:they were rebel lovers !
The movie revolves around two main lines:
-melodrama,with a predates such movies as "the old maid" and "to each his own",with all its implausibilities:the young Flora in love with the young Gerald!but it's the name of the game.
-a pre woman's lib at a time one did not even think to hire a woman as a secretary;the heroine is not still a suffragette but when the movie is over,she is still relatively young and she will probably become one.My favorite scene is when Hepburn destroys the editorial dealing with sewing and proclaims her indignation after an unwed mother takes her own life .
A beautiful portrayal of a modern woman (dig the last line,a compliment which could be returned to men too)masterfully played by the great Katharine Hepburn.
Also infuriating is the handling of the character of the father, who is strict and regimented at the beginning of the film and is reduced to being a near-weeping milksop, comforted by and comforting his loving daughter, near the end. Where was he during the raising of his granddaughter? Were I Hepburn, I wouldn't let him near her, but if that's the case, how did they become reconciled by the end? It makes no sense.
Hepburn carries the film, but it is lacking in many areas. Every character other than Pamela was rather one-dimensional and didn't add much of anything.
"A Woman Rebels" is a very good story about a Victorian woman who dares to be independent at a time when women were expected to get married. A career was considered out of the question. I think it's very well written and directed with good performances, especially from Herbert Marshall and Van Heflin (in his debut film performance).
Then, tragedy strikes their lives Most of the original cast is disposed with; in a storyline that seems, at times, to be presented "in code". Still, it's possible to discern what's going on, if you're paying attention. Basically, Hepburn is raising her sister's child as her own, due to Victorian-era sensibilities. Over the years, Hepburn grows into a successful feminist writer. Important cast members joining the "soap opera" are Herbert Marshall (as Thomas Lane) and Doris Dudley (as Flora "Floss" Junior). Hepburn's "dark secret" rears its ugly head, after a couple of decades.
It is most astonishing to see Ms. Dudley, playing Hepburn's daughter, look more like her mother, when they share the screen. How is it that nobody noticed? The production looks first class, at least. And, most of the acting is valiant; particularly effective is Mr. Heflin, in his film debut. But, the good story idea in "A Woman Rebels" is so poorly executed, it's a travesty.
*** A Woman Rebels (1936) Mark Sandrich ~ Katharine Hepburn, Herbert Marshall, Van Heflin
Hepburn plays the role of Pamela Thistlewaite with all of her arch mannerisms intact under the direction of Mark Sandrich. VAN HEFLIN has a brief early role as one of her suitors who reveals that he's already married. She then switches her affection to HERBERT MARSHALL with whom she has an on again/off again relationship conflicted by Hepburn's stance on women's rights.
Hepburn photographs beautifully and looks fetching in her Victorian costumes, but she's merely playing another facet of her "Little Women" character (Jo March), with ambitions to become a writer for a Ladies Home Journal and become an independent woman without need of a man in her life. Here, she's as self-sacrificing and noble as ever, but it's all rather stifling and mired in the '30s style of melodramatic screen acting.
The supporting cast includes Elizabeth Allan, David Manners and Lucille Watson, who behaves exactly as though she's playing Aunt March again.
Hepburn fans who enjoy seeing her play herself will probably enjoy this tremendously. Others beware. Best line in the movie goes to an aged Van Heflin who says, toward the end, "Hatred can bind two people together more strongly than love."