Sunday, August 7, 2011

Katharine Hepburn in Long Day's Journey Into Night

Katharine Hepburn received her ninth Best Actress nomination for playing Mary Tyrone, a depressed, unstable addict in the movie version of Eugene O'Neill's drama, Long Day's Journey Into Night. Although nowadays it's one of Katharine Hepburn's most famous performances (she herself considered this one her best) and it won Best Actress at Cannes, I don't think she had much of a chance of winning her second Oscar. I feel her performance combined with her fame and iconic image got her many votes but I think she only got ahead of Lee Remick (or not even her). It's a very tricky case with her.

Long Day's Journey Into Night is not a bad movie. Although it's overlong and even boring sometimes, the greatness of the real play shines through the material. It's an old-fashioned ensemble piece and there was Sidney Lumet as a director. The whole thing seems very stagy and I imagine it would have been fascinating on the stage. Ralph Richardson gives a great stage performance but he's too mannered for a film and he really overacts sometimes. Jason Robards and Dean Stockwell are great but nothing really amazing (maybe Robards).

Katharine Hepburn plays Mary, the mother of a dysfunctional, unhappy family. She's also mentally unstable and addicted to morphine. She's full of disturbing thoughts and shattered dreams and she's unbelievably depressed. I really cannot think of many other actress in this role besides Katharine Hepburn. Mary is an incredibly hard role to play and any misstep would have ruined it. An incredible talent isn't enough for her. This part needs an extremely confident performer who's no fears of going to places she's never been to before. I guess Katharine Hepburn was the best choice for that in Hollywood. Ironically, I'm not much of a fan of Katharine Hepburn. I mean I do admire her but I don't love her as much as others. Still, I find her stone-cold sober fascinating. This lady had a real personality (just read Jane Fonda's book, she's a fascinating character there) and she's so original.

Mary is a very unlikely Katharine Hepburn character. She's different from everything she had done and would do later. I've got used to watching her being manipulative or an unhappy spinster or a very self-confident, emancipated woman. However, Mary is something else. What I loved the most is that Kate made Mary a real ghost-like presence. As a result, she's always very frightening and disturbing to watch. There's a kind of repetitiveness in her performance that makes it very intense. I was mostly shocked by the way she portrayed Mary's denial of her son's sickness. There's a scene where he reveals where he reveals the truth and Mary slaps him on the face, screams and hugs him obsessedly. It's a very strong moment and it is really unforgettable.

Hepburn is the true standout in the cast of Long Day's Journey Into Night. She steals each and every moment from her co-stars without truly intending to. She feels like a great ensemble player but we know how much she contributed to the movie when she's not on the screen (for about an hour). Without her, the whole thing is quite slow and even boring but with her, the whole movie turns into something brilliant. That previously mentioned haunting presence is just brilliant. And she never overplays these aspects of Mary (there are scenes at the edge, though). In the end, she's very much like Ophelia from Hamlet, she becomes a shadow of her old self. It's very painful to see her suffer but it's also wonderful to see Hepburn act so great.

The movie ends with a great monologue of Mary which is excellently delivered by Katharine Hepburn. However, Sidney Lumet screwed the whole effect with close-ups. The effect would have been even stronger. That's not Hepburn's fault really, I just wanted to say. The way she speaks about the Virgin Mary and her old desire of becoming a nun is fantastic. There's something so brutal about it.

In the end, I must say that I was thouroughly impressed by the performance of Katharine Hepburn. Although there's something in me that prevented me from totally embrace it, I still find her truly amazing in her part. As Mary Tyrone, she's just chilling and really disturbing but she never overplays Mary's broken personality. Fantastic work.
What do you think?


Fritz said...

I expected your grade and my guess for your overall ranking is still possible! :-)

dinasztie said...

Yes, me too. Somehow... LOL :D

It's possible. :)

Anonymous said...

She was brilliant! I still prefer Davis but she did have a more complex role and she did wonders with it, a masterful performance for the ages.

Anonymous said...

This is probably her best performance for me.

dinasztie said...

deanie: I wouldn't say that myself. For me it's her Eleanor of Aquitaine.