The following is my entry for ” The Winter Sports and Holiday Films Blogathon” hosted by the blog, Le Mot Du Cinephiliaque. Please click here to view the other articles being exhibited during this event.
“You’re too old not to be interesting.” Ryan O’Neal tells Katharine Hepburn during a romantic dinner in The Man Upstairs.
Katharine Hepburn is one of the most influential and prominent stars to ever grace the silver screen. In a career spanning over sixty years Katharine exhibited her unique mastery in all aspects of the entertainment industry and succeeded on all levels.
By the time the 1970’s approached Katharine Hepburn’s illustrious filmography was brimming. She had already attained three Academy Awards, and while she still had time she wanted to explore every area in the dramatic department that she could.
In 1973 shortly after her film appearance in A Delicate Balance, Katharine Hepburn made a significant approach in the television medium when she starred in The Glass Menagerie, a Tennessee Williams production. For years Hepburn had been wary about venturing into television work, but this picture proved to be one of the main television events of the year and received victorious results in the Nielson Ratings.
The Glass Menagerie not only garnered Hepburn an Emmy Award nomination for her portrayal of the pensive southern mother, Amanda Wingfield, it also paved the way for future success on the television. Two years later in 1975, Hepburn returned to the small screen and obtained her only Emmy Award for Love Among The Ruins, an Edwardian drama that finally allowed her the chance to star alongside Laurence Olivier, whom she had always admired.
With two television productions on her resume, Katharine Hepburn had come to appreciate this facet of the entertainment industry and would revisit the medium again in 1979 in The Corn Is Green, a made for TV movie that marks her final of ten collaborations with her close friend George Cukor.
After The Corn Is Green Katharine Hepburn took a seven year absence from the television medium. During this period she starred opposite Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond in 1981 and attained her fourth Academy Award for her sterling portrayal of Ethel Thayer. The same year she returned to the stage and attained a Tony nomination for The West Side Waltz. Three years later she appeared in the black comedy, Grace Quigley, a film that received unfavourable reviews due to it’s morbid theme and disappeared shortly after. In 1986 she hosted a television documentary about the life and career of Spencer Tracy and spoke openly about her twenty-seven year relationship with him.
With the gratifying reception she had garnered for her television work in the 1970’s, Katharine Hepburn decided to make this medium her main focus from that point on. Even though her made for TV movies did not requisite the encomium her earlier work in this field did, she procured another Emmy Award nomination for Mrs. Delafield Wants To Marry.
As year each passed, Hepburn was getting older and with her head tremor becoming more noticeable she vowed to stop working and return to her family home in Fenwick, but instead she found herself taking on more roles in television productions and visited her comedic roots in Laura Lansing Slept Here in 1988.
Following the release of Laura Lansing Slept Here, Katharine Hepburn took a four year hiatus and returned to the small screen again in 1992 when she co-starred alongside Ryan O’Neal in The Man Upstairs.
The Man Upstairs was the most notable of Katharine’s television movies from this period, but like her other vehicles that were made around the same time the film was largely panned and considered unworthy of her.
At the time of filming The Man Upstairs Katharine was eighty-five years old and was starting to display the onset of Dementia. During the production she would forget her lines which would result in her getting distressed. The producer John Dayton suggested she use cue cards, but Hepburn saw this as a sign of weakness and bluntly refused; It wasn’t until Dayton admitted to her that Angela Lansbury used cue cards for Murder She Wrote that she decided to give them a try.
Katharine Hepburn garnered a Golden Globe nomination for The Man Upstairs, a film that was directed by George Schaefer and written for the screen by James Prideaux who provided the screenplay for Hepburn’s other television productions of that period.
The Man Upstairs takes place at Christmas time and revolves around the story of Victoria Brown ( Katharine Hepburn ) a sheltered elderly woman who lives alone in a commodious mansion situated in a bushy province.
One stormy night, Victoria is awakened by a strange noise and stumbles downstairs to discover the sight of an escaped convict named Mooney Polaski ( Ryan O’Neal ) in her kitchen. At first Victoria is cautious of Mooney, but eventually she warms up to him and allows him to make her residence his hideaway sanctuary. As time progresses Victoria and Mooney form a close friendship with each other.
James Prideaux wrote Laura Lansing Slept Here and The Man Upstairs in an attempt to illustrate Katharine’s personal and public persona, but both times Prideaux was unimpressed with the final result. The only formation of the film that really resembles Katharine Hepburn is the isolated existence of Victoria Brown.
In real life Katharine much preferred to seclude herself away from Hollywood to live a leisurely and peaceful life in Fenwick, Connecticut, where she enjoyed engaging herself in outdoor recreational activities. The same can be said about Hepburn’s character Victoria Brown in The Man Upstairs.
Victoria Brown is virtually a recluse who lives a rather sheltered life in her remote residence which is situated in the bush. The only company that Victoria keeps is that of her maid Molly and her cleaner who is employed to work in the mansion during the day. At night Victoria is alone and eludes boredom by burying herself in a book.
Then one night company and friendship comes in the unlikely form of an escaped convict named Mooney who finds shelter in Victoria’s capacious establishment. Cognizant of Mooney’s formidable background, Victoria at first is suspicious of his motives, but before she knows it the two form an amicable relationship and a friendship begins to blossom.
Through time Victoria comes to discover that Mooney Polaski is really a charming human being with an amiable aura and realizes that his history as a jewel thief is fuelled by his calamitous days as a child with meager possessions who was beaten and abused by his mother, an abominable creature who found pleasure in holding a hot iron on her sons arm.
Now that Mooney Polaski is grown up and has escaped from jail he yearns for a proper way of life. Never before has he had the opportunity to celebrate a traditional Christmas with a loving family in a congenial environment. Victoria knows this and feels sorry for Mooney. In return she is determined to make that Christmas a special occasion for the two of them to celebrate.
The Man Upstairs is an enthralling television movie that spotlights the indelible talents of Katharine Hepburn in her latter day career. Not only is it a poignant drama with splashes of comedy, it features Katharine wrestling an escaped convict to the ground.
For some joyous holiday cheer this Christmas I would highly recommend The Man Upstairs.
Originally producer Burt Reynolds was also set to star as the male lead but scheduling conflicts with other projects eventually forced him to stay on only as producer.
Katharine Hepburn: Born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003 in Fenwick, Connecticut. Aged 96.
Ryan O’Neal: Born Charles Patrick Ryan O’Neal on April 20th, 1941 in Los Angeles, California.