Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Stevens|
|Produced by||Pandro S. Berman|
|Screenplay by||Dorothy Yost|
|Based on||Alice Adams|
by Booth Tarkington
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Cinematography||Robert De Grasse|
|Edited by||Jane Loring|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
Alice Adams is a 1935 romantic drama film directed by George Stevens and starring Katharine Hepburn. It was made by RKO and produced by Pandro S. Berman. The screenplay was by Dorothy Yost, Mortimer Offner, and Jane Murfin. The film was adapted from the novel Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington. The music score was by Max Steiner and Roy Webb, and the cinematography by Robert De Grasse. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress.
The film is about a young woman in a financially struggling family, and her pretentious attempts to appear upper-class and wed a wealthy man while concealing her poverty. Hepburn's popularity had declined after her two 1933 film triumphs - her Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory and her celebrated performance as Jo March in Little Women; her performance in Alice Adams made her a public favorite again.
Alice Adams (Katharine Hepburn) is the youngest daughter of the Adams family. Her father (Fred Stone) is an invalid employed as a clerk in a factory owned by Mr. Lamb (Charles Grapewin), who has kept Adams on salary for years despite his lengthy illness. Her mother (Ann Shoemaker) is embittered by her husband's lack of ambition and upset by the snubs her daughter endures because of their poverty. Alice's older brother Walter (Frank Albertson) is a gambler who cannot hold a job and who associates with African Americans (which, given the time period in which the film is set, is considered a major social embarrassment). As the film begins, Alice attends a dance given by the wealthy Mildred Palmer (Evelyn Venable). She has no date, and she is escorted to the occasion by Walter. Alice is a social climber like her mother, and engages in socially inappropriate behavior and conversation in an attempt to impress others. At the dance, Alice meets wealthy Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray), who is charmed by her despite her poverty.
Alice's mother nags her husband into quitting his job and pouring his life savings into a glue factory. Mr. Lamb ostracizes Mr. Adams from society, believing that Adams stole the glue formula from him. Alice is the subject of cruel town gossip, which Russell ignores.
Alice invites Russell to the Adams home for a fancy meal. She and her mother put on airs, the entire family dresses inappropriately in formal wear despite the hot summer night, and the Adamses pretend that they eat caviar and fancy, rich-tasting food all the time. The dinner is ruined by the slovenly behavior and poor cooking skills of Malena (Hattie McDaniel), the maid the Adamses have hired for the occasion. Mr. Adams unwittingly embarrasses Alice by exposing the many lies she has told Russell. When Walter shows up with bad financial news, Alice gently expels Russell from the house now that everything is "ruined."
Walter claims that "a friend of mine got in a jam" and -- to help his friend -- Walter has stolen $150 from Mr. Lamb. (The obvious implication is that Walter stole the money to pay off his own gambling debts.) Mr. Adams decides to take a loan against his new factory in order to save Walter from jail.
Just then, Mr. Lamb appears at the Adams house. He accuses Adams of stealing the glue formula from him and declares his intention to ruin Adams by building a glue factory directly across the street from the Adams plant. The men argue violently, but their friendship is saved when Alice confesses that her parents took the glue formula only so she could have a better life and some social status. Lamb and Adams reconcile, and Lamb indicates he will not prosecute Walter.
Alice wanders onto the porch, where Russell has been waiting for her. He confesses his love for her despite her poverty and family problems.
The film was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, and Hepburn for Best Actress. Although Bette Davis won the award for her performance in Dangerous, she said that Hepburn deserved the award, and Hepburn ended up receiving the second most votes.
Katharine Hepburn wanted George Cukor to direct the film, but Cukor was engaged in directing David Copperfield. Cukor advised her to choose either William Wyler or George Stevens to direct. Although Hepburn favored the German-born and Swiss-educated Wyler, producer Pandro S. Berman favored American George Stevens.
The plot of the film differs from the book Alice Adams in significant ways. Most importantly, the novel depicts Alice estranged from Russell. The original script by Dorothy Yost and Jane Murfin ended with Alice and Russell in love, but Stevens was so unhappy with the script and the ending that he, his friend Mortimer Offner, and Hepburn discarded most of it and rewrote it (using dialogue taken from the novel). Their script ended with Alice's relationship with Russell up in the air, and finished with a scene in which Alice goes to secretarial school. But Berman and RKO executives wanted a happy ending in which Alice gets Russell. Stevens and Hepburn opposed this change. Berman enlisted the aid of Cukor, who agreed that the more realistic ending would be box-office poison, so the script was changed to allow Russell to fall in love with Alice and win her over.
After the cinema circuits deducted their exhibition percentage of box office ticket sales, the film made a profit of $164,000.
In a retrospective review, Pauline Kael deemed the film "a classic" and stated that "Hepburn gives one of her two or three finest performances".