ALICE ADAMS(director: George Stevens; screenwriters: Mortimer Offner/Dorothy Yost/story by Booth Tarkington; cinematographer: Robert de Grasse; editor: Jane Loring; music: Max Steiner; cast: Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams), Fred MacMurray (Arthur Russell), Fred Stone (Virgil Adams), Evelyn Venable (Mildred ‘Georgette’ Palmer), Frank Albertson (Walter Adams), Ann Shoemaker (Mrs. Adams), Charles Grapewin (Mr. J.A. Lamb), Hattie McDaniel (Malena), Grady Sutton (Frank Dowling); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; RKO; 1935)
“There’s much humor that comes out of the believable characters portrayed and the pain they suffer from their plight.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Alice Adams is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1921 novel by Booth Tarkington, though it comes with a poorly constructed happy ending that is contrary to the book’s unhappy one. It’s about a lower middle-class family who strives to help their pushy social-climbing small-town daughter win a society gentleman. It’s directed by George Stevens (“Gunga Din”/”Swing Time”), who was just a shade under thirty at the time. This was Stevens’ breakthrough film and he got the job over veteran director William Wyler upon Kate’s pull with producer Pandro S. Berman. Though dated, trivial and losing much of the social satiric bite on Midwestern mores from the book, Kate nevertheless gives a superb performance and there’s much humor that comes out of the believable characters portrayed and the pain they suffer from their plight.
Alice Adams (Katharine Hepburn) got an invite to attend a dance at wealthy socialite Mildred Palmer’s house and since she’s short on dough picks the violets for her corsage in the park. Her equally pushy Ma (Ann Shoemaker) nags her ill husband Virgil Adams (Fred Stone) for being a clerk all his life with no ambition and not making enough coin to support his daughter so she could compete with the upper-class girls she’s dying to emulate. Ma makes the poor guy feel like a failure. Walter Adams (Frank Albertson) is Alice’s wise guy brother, whom dad got a job in his factory. Ma cajoles the reluctant brother to take Alice to the dance. Feeling out of place because she’s socially beneath the others at the party and her dress is out of fashion, no one dances with Alice until the bumbler Frank asks. Upset that she has to sit and make uncomfortable conversation with Frank, she tosses her wilted violets on the floor; Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray) comes along and picks them up for her and later dances with her. He’s a handsome, wealthy, sophisticated, unassuming fellow that rumor has it is engaged to Miss Perfect, Mildred Palmer. Growing increasingly uneasy among her social betters, Alice sends the obliging Arthur to find Walter to take her home; he’s found shooting craps with the Negro band members in the cloak room.
Arthur soon afterwards meets Alice by accident on the street and the two start dating, with Alice putting on airs afraid to be herself and ashamed of her modest family home. Ma pushes Pa to quit working for Mr. Lamb (Charles Grapewin) and open up a glue factory with a secret formula he invented 25 years ago with a partner now deceased, which leaves the poor slob with no savings. Ma then pressures Alice to invite Arthur for dinner and they hire for the special occasion the grouchy colored maid Hattie McDaniel (Hattie McDaniel) to serve a heavy French gourmet meal on a very hot summer night. The dinner party turns into a nightmare and all Alice’s social pretensions fall aside, as she realizes Arthur is uncomfortable and sees through her charade.
The nervous unsure Alice almost blew it with Prince Charming, but Arthur likes her just the way she is and hangs around to tell her that after eavesdropping on a family crisis that involves Walter taking $150 off the books at Lamb’s place to pay back a loan, an angry Mr. Lamb coming over to tell Mr. Adams he’s opening a competing glue factory, and Alice soothing things over with pop’s boss by saying he only opened the factory to help her and really always wanted to still keep his old job. In the end Alice and Arthur kiss for the first time on the porch.
REVIEWED ON 8/11/2005 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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