9. Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story
Like her The Lion in Winter costar, Katharine Hepburn had a legendary career (4 Academy Awards for Best Actress isn’t too shabby). I dare you to find a purely awful performance within her 52 or so credits. Yes, she may have been chilly in a few of her early films (she wasn’t called “box office poison for nothing), but underneath that veneer, she always had a spark (See: Little Women), however stifled (See: Mary of Scotland). After a few “flops” (including Bringing Up Baby), Hepburn turned to every actor’s “first love,” the theater. With the role of Tracy Lord written for her by friend Philip Barry, she took stage by storm and the play The Philadelphia Story was a smash hit. As smart as she was talented, Hepburn secured the play’s film rights through Howard Hughes and negotiated her way with Louis B. Mayer into having veto rights over screenwriter, producer, director and cast. And by golly, was it worth it.
Tracy Lord is an intriguing character. She’s rich, she’s spoiled, she treats men horribly (even Cary “definitive dreamboat” Grant), yet we still care about her. She may idle her days out riding or swimming lazily in her pool or ranting against her beau-of-the-moment, but there is a heart and a fire underneath. And though Hepburn is beautiful with her head-on gaze and her porcelain cheekbones, that’s not what draws you by her side. It’s her convincing murmurs of love and fear and hope, breathing out in lines like “Dexter, I’m such an unholy mess of a girl.” Even in wordless moments, you can see these sentiments breaming in her eyes. She wants to be good, she wants to be loved, she wants to be yar. From beginning to end, Hepburn maintains an ice goddess demeanor and never falters in her airs, but she brings an inner warmth and a light to Tracy, a quality very select few can capture. And yes, I realize that I’m manglingly appropriating more than a few lines from the film, but they’re all true in Hepburn’s performance. Rather than my rambling even further, just watch the clips below.