KATHARINE HEPBURN MONTH
STATE OF THE UNION ( 1948 )
Frank Capra is one of the most influential directors the world has ever seen. During the annals of his career he has produced a myriad of triumphant classics and major award winning films that have garnered him a multitude of accolades and critical acclaim. Some of his most notable successes stem from the silent era to as modern as the sixties, with a significant approach into Pre-Code, where he pioneered his way through an array of memorable vehicles, most notably those with Barbara Stanwyck, whom he developed a lifelong friendship and admiration to.
Even in the twilight years of his career, Frank Capra was still turning in eminent productions with considerable profits, though none of these films earned him the recognition that he achieved with his earlier works. Shortly after the war ended in 1945, Capra founded Liberty Films , a production company that only produced two pictures.
His first production produced under Liberty Films was his last celebratory hit “It’s A Wonderful Life”, which is now considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made. Following the films release, Frank Capra finished his short tenor at Liberty Films with “State Of The Union”, though the picture was originally released by MGM.
Sadly for Frank Capra, “State Of The Union” was largely panned at the box office, and didn’t quite requisite the results that he had hoped for. For Capra, who held a prestige status in Hollywood, it was a disappointment.
Frank Capra wasn’t the only one perturbed about the films lousy reviews. Months before preparations took place, Capra had been negotiating with Spencer Tracy to play the lead role of Grant Matthews, and he wanted Katharine Hepburn to portray his wife. This idea caused altercations in April when it was reported that Hepburn has opted out and will be replaced by Claudette Colbert, but by October word came that Colbert had abandoned the project, which piqued an interest in Spencer Tracy who was adamant about having Katharine cast in the role. At the time, Hepburn was going through another lapse in her career. She had just completed work on “Song Of Love”, which was received poorly on it’s release. Tracy seen this as the perfect opportunity to revive her career, but in return it did nothing to enhance her popularity and today it remains one of the most obscure of the nine Tracy and Hepburn collaborations.
Based on a play by Howard Lyndsey and written for the screen by Russell Crouse, the film showcases the indelible talents of Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Angela Lansbury, Van Johnson and Adolph Menjou, all under the immaculate direction of Frank Capra.
The plot centers around the story of Grant Matthews ( Spencer Tracy ) a successful airplane tycoon who is urged to run for president at the suggestion of Kay Thorndyke ( Angela Lansbury ) the Republican newspaper magnate, who is infatuated in Matthews so much that she plans to be the power behind the throne.
After much discussion, Grant is finally persuaded and is made to phone his estranged wife, Mary Matthews ( Katharine Hepburn ) to invite her to take the political tour of the country with him. With no real conception of the nature of Grant’s work, but highly extolled by his idealism and honesty, Mary agrees to fly to Washington to meet Grant and to remain his sole support throughout the journey.
At first everything is calm until Kay becomes petulant about Grant’s speeches and forces him to change his future speeches to fit her agenda, which causes embroilment between Grant and Mary.
Just because the film flopped at the box office doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. In fact it’s very moving, complex and filled with an array of powerful scenes. People who are use to seeing Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in their customary romantic comedy roles might be disappointed, because even though the film is classified as a comedy, it’s more of a political drama with small elements of humor splashed through various parts of the movie, most notably the plane scene, where Van Johnson is bringing out all the comedic relief while playing sick and worried when the plane is amid all these crazy stunts.
One of the main highlights of the film are the supporting cast. Along with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, we witness the inimitable talents of stellar stars which include, Van Johnson, Adolph Menjou, Lewis Stone in a very minor role at the beginning, Margaret Hamilton, who is best remembered for her portrayal of Miss Gulch in “The Wizard Of Oz”, and Angela Lansbury in a memorable part as a femme fetale.
Of course with a cast like this you can almost guarantee fireworks, in fact it is. It’s enthralling watching masters of their craft chew up every scene and having a grand time while doing it.
If it weren’t for Katharine Hepburn, Angela Lansbury would not have been in the movie. After witnessing Lansbury’s screen test, Hepburn knew that she had talent and would be ideal for the role of Kay Thorndyke, so she started championing for her by saying, “Sign that girl, she is the one for this role. You couldn’t do better.”, which is a great thing because “State Of The Union” was considered Angela Lansbury’s strongest film of the period. On the other hand, Lansbury herself will forever display deep gratitude for Katharine Hepburn, and in interviews after the pictures release she always spoke glowingly of Hepburn who was the mastermind behind Kay Thorndyke.
It’s sad that this film is not better regarded and remains one of the lesser known works of Tracy and Hepburn. For a production that was largely panned, it’s actually quite outstanding and should stand as a viewing repertoire amongst all the other meritorious classics of the forties. The script is intelligent, and demonstrates a knowing cynicism of the political world.
It’s Frank Capra, It’s Tracy and Hepburn, the perfect ingredients for a great film.
There was tension on the set between the strongly conservative Adolphe Menjou and liberal thinking Katharine Hepburn, who had recently made a public speech against America’s anticommunist hysteria and was facing a backlash as a result.
Adolphe Menjou was a hard-line political conservative who had willingly co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and named names. Katharine Hepburn was decidedly more liberal and had been an outspoken critic of the blacklist. When Hepburn learned Menjou had worked with HUAC, she refused to speak to or have anything to do with him unless they were filming a scene. Once the cameras were off, she kept her distance.
Mary Matthews: “It’s a small request, but I’d give anything for a good smack on the south end.”
Mary Matthews: “Oh, that’s silly. No woman could ever run for President. She’d have to admit she’s over 35.”
Kay Thorndyke: “My father always said that life was war, so never count the casualties.”
Katharine Hepburn: Born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003, in Fenwick, Connecticut. Aged 96.
Spencer Tracy: Born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy on April 5th, 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Died: June 10th, 1967, in Beverly Hills, California. Aged 67.
Van Johnson: Born Charles Van Dell Johnson on August 25th, 1916 in Newport, Rhode Island. Died: December 12th, 2008, in Nyack, New York. Aged 92.
Angela Lansbury: Born Angela Brigid Lansbury on October 16th, 1925 in Regent’s Park, London.