“Even though I’m a woman, I have brains — I intend to use them.”
A defiant young woman (Katharine Hepburn) in Victorian England rebels against her autocratic father (Donald Crisp) by having an affair with a man (Van Heflin) she soon learns is already married. When her newly married sister (Elizabeth Allan) dies shortly before giving birth, the secretly pregnant Hepburn decides to raise her child as her niece while forging a career for herself as a groundbreaking journalist; meanwhile, she refuses to marry a kind diplomat (Herbert Marshall) out of fear that her secret will be revealed and cause a scandal.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Feminism and Women’s Issues
- Herbert Marshall Films
- Historical Drama
- Katharine Hepburn Films
- Morality Police
- Van Heflin Films
This little-seen Katharine Hepburn vehicle (based on Netta Syrett‘s 1930 novel Portrait of a Rebel) is primarily remembered as Hepburn’s third box office flop in a row for RKO studios — and unfortunately, it’s easy to see why the film failed to catch on with audiences. It’s ultimately a missed opportunity, relying far too heavily on melodramatic conventions rather than capitalizing on its more interesting feminist premise. Although Hepburn’s “Pam Thistlewaite” defiantly declares that she “has brains and intends to use them”, we see only snippets of her brave attempts to penetrate the glass ceiling in Victorian England — as epitomized in the following reactions to her attempts to seek employment in “men’s work”:
“A girl as a secretary! Why, bless my soul… I’d be the laughing stock of London.”
“Sorry, can’t be done — a salesgirl in a shop? Unthinkable. My customers wouldn’t tolerate it.”
Her character does eventually find success as an agitating feminist journalist, but unfortunately, little to no time is spent dwelling on this aspect of her life. Instead, the bulk of the narrative focuses on issues of dubious morality, as Hepburn’s “sins” of the past come back to haunt both her and her grown daughter.
With that said, Hepburn is as luminous and charismatic as always, fully embodying a role tailor-made for her sensibilities; and the Oscar-nominated period costumes she wears over the decades are a delight.
However, this one remains must-see only for Hepburn enthusiasts (and those curious to see Herbert Marshall bathing a baby while wearing an apron!).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Katharine Hepburn as Pamela
- Fine period costumes
- Robert De Grasse’s cinematography
No, though Hepburn fans will want to check it out.