Last week, we discussed the eternal question: “What’s a girl to do?” when it comes to serving duty or serving her impulses. We chatted about some of the heroines screened at TCMFF ’15 and some of the ones my #OnlyMakeBelieve film festival celebrated (want to catch up? Click here.).
As promised, I’ve saved the best for last—the nail-biter decisions of the two unrelated Hepburns, Katharine in The Philadelphia Story, and Audrey in Roman Holiday. In both cases, these women listen–hard–to their hearts before deciding to answer that call. One says “yes” and one says “no.” (Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen these movies yet, go watch them. Go on, we’ll wait. This article won’t make a bit of sense unless you do, so go ahead.)
Roman Holiday’s Princess Anne runs away to enjoy a day of supreme, unchaperoned innocence in the streets of Rome.
Replacing her sensible pumps with strappy sandals…
Eating gelato in the company of the equally luscious Gregory Peck…
Sleeping in a man’s apartment (and in his pajamas!)…
Getting her hair cropped…
All before replacing the tiara.
Anne’s transformation is born of a struggle between honoring her heritage and listening to her heart. She manages to reconcile the two by knowingly surrendering her romantic dreams and embracing her destiny as a ruler—but with a new sense of identity and individuality.
Anne becomes a woman with this deliberate choice. She’s no longer borne along on the tide of family and civic duty. While men’s coming-of-age films focus on their loss of virginity, women in films become adults when they make an independent choice. The other key element in most women’s coming-of-age films—a change in their wardrobe or hairstyle.
Princess Anne returns to her controlled life, and at that passage point, Edith Head’s costumes inform us of her transition from child to woman. Her up-to-there Victorian nightgown has been replaced by a regally beautiful dressing gown of black (the envy of many woman I know).
Edith’s brilliant costumes are perfect examples of a Sophisticated Ingenue Star Style (after all, Audrey is that style’s icon) crossed with Classically Ladylike due to her social standing as a royal. Edith whips up elegantly conservative dressmaker suits for parades…
…a hoop-skirted, drop waist damask court gown for the embassy ball…
…and a gorgeous lace overlay fit-and-flare dress (that Audrey purchased and repurposed for her Oscar-acceptance gown! More details about that gown’s evolution here in my archived post on Oscar Night Oddities.).
Princess Anne renames herself “Anya” and spends a day of gallivanting around Rome with the nearly unbearably handsome Gregory Peck.
Although frankly, it’s Eddie Albert’s frisky, hilarious “Irving” who stole my heart and every scene he’s in.
…losing the self-fabric necktie, using a striped hankie as a jabot or kerchief…
…opening, popping, and closing the collar, and so on.
Anne’s switcheroo Roman street ensemble is a terrific example of one of Edith’s best party tricks…creating costumes that can be adapted on the fly…see “The Major and the Minor” for another clever hat trick costume.
Sidebar: I think the Countess, the princess’s lady-in-waiting (and waiting and waiting), bears a striking resemblance to Edith Head herself–or am I the only one who thinks that? Seems as if the Countess has been the keeper of the schedule and the wardrobe, at least, up until now.
Anyhoo, in a scene every woman understands, Anne wistfully eyes the breezy “Italian Boy” haircut poster in a barbershop window and impulsively darts in for a quick liberation. Every good makeover movie features the de riguer haircut motif…when a woman changes her hair, watch out! Change is coming or is already here. (Check out Audrey’s OTHER big hairdo change–this one in real, not reel, life here.)
Love and life have given her wings; now she can fold them…until they’re needed again. (For an even sadder version of this story, see The Swan with Grace Kelly.)
On her return to the embassy, her elderly courtier assumes a mentorship role that’s no longer needed, saying, “I have my duty to perfrom, just as Her Royal Highness has her duty.” Anne stiffens as if slapped and says, calmly but with tremendous intensity, ” Your Excellency, I trust you will not find it necessary to use that word again. Were I not completely aware of my duty to my family and my country, I would not have come back tonight. Or, indeed, ever again.”
Her entourage, with looks that blend alarm and respect, backs down instantly. The Countess, similarly dismissed, waves off the offending glass of warm milk and crackers at Anne’s command and quietly closes the doors to allow Anne some precious privacy.
Twenty-four hours before, Anne retired to her chambers a nerve-wracked royal, but now, she takes her place as a true princess and will brook no nonsense from her newly cowed courtiers.
Anne’s final appearance assures us that she’s assimilated the lessons from her whirlwind love affair.
I guess everyone has a special love for the place where they first became acquainted with their own hearts.
Lording it over everyone
Kate Hepburn’s Tracy Lord also makes an informed choice, but while Audrey’s acquiescent Princess Anne was beloved by the masses, Kate’s rigidly righteous Tracy Lord was feared by family and society at large, isolated by her prickly persona. (A relationship, by the way, that echoes Kate’s own troubled relationship with the movie-going public. See more details in this archived post.) Kate was considered a bit too uppity.
Now, I’m going to tell you upfront, I have a love-hate relationship with this film. I love the Adrian costumes. I love the wonderfully nuanced, sheer comedic genius characterizations. I love the actors and actresses who populate this upper-crust world.
What I don’t love is the script…well, going deeper, the concept. I get that Kate Hepburn needed this film to demystify and domesti-Kate herself for the movie-going masses–I do. (So did her studio, who was overjoyed Kate found a way to reverse public opinion of her as box-office poison.)
But the very thought of a father and husband justifying an affair with a chorus girl by blaming his grown daughter for not worshipping him…sorry. That doesn’t wash with me–or Kate. Nor 90% of the women I know–and a bunch of the men, for that matter!
What makes it worse is that everyone else agrees with him, including his wronged wife, his innocent youngest daughter, Tracy’s ex-husband, Uncle Willy, and probably the gardener if he were asked his opinion.
Tracy Lord is right to be enraged at her father’s suggestion that if she had only fawned unquestioning at his feet, he’d have stayed home where he belongs. I have a word for that logic, but, as Auntie Em once said, “Being a Christian woman, I can’t say it.”
That said, let’s look beyond the glaringly erroneous conclusions of the plot and study up on Tracy’s duty, shall we?
Tracy’s self-imposed social status dictates that she adhere to her promise to marry the self-made, utterly bourgeoisie social climber George. He’s nice and all, but yeesh, what a nebbish! We all understand Tracy’s picked him so she can continue to wear the pants in the family (a theme worn threadbare in Kate Hepburn’s films).
To reinforce Tracy’s position as she regards her minions from on high, Adrian puts her in a series of breathtakingly Olympian outfits, intermittently interrupted by snappy sportswear ensembles and impossibly chic daywear.
Kate wears them all with elan and elegance and complete joie de vivre. The perfect picture of the Smartly Tailored woman at play. (In fact, she’s my Star Style icon for that particular type. Nobody does it better.)
And we all sigh with envy.
Note the cross-and-tie waist treatment below. We understand by this repeated costume motif that Tracy’s roped-and-tied, girdled by duty, self-righteousness, and stubborn pride.
When Kate makes her breakthrough, however (which, interestingly involved a baptism of sorts, as did Audrey’s), she’s nearly naked and is clothed in a wretched excuse for a bathrobe. Not sure where she and Jimmy Steward found that one, but there you are…she’s been humbled in every possible way, including sartorially.
When Kate realizes that her heart is trending back towards the reformed alcoholic C.K. Dexter Haven (who at least has the grace not to blame THAT on her, too, although he comes darned close), she chucks duty at the last second. But only because fiancée George flinches first when he suspects her of pre-nup hanky-panky with…honestly now, Jimmy Stewart? Really, George?
The plot skips nimbly along, with Kate gamely taking every punch, right on the kisser, in order to show the men in her life that she’s learned her lesson. All is forgiven.
Tracy’s fluttery, flouncy, utterly feminine orchid-white mousseline de soie wedding gown is an interesting hybrid between a Mayfair garden party froth and her oft-repeated “don’t mess with me” cinched-and-bracketed waist treatment.
Seems as if Miss Hepburn preferred to carry over certain aspects of the Broadway production’s costumes, including a gingham frock, a Doric column of a gown, and that remarkably similar bridal dress with floral-decked cartwheel hat.
Her cloud-spun bridal gown reveals to us (and her family) that Tracy is now truly transparent, her heart and her mind are humming on the same frequency.
She chose it for George, but she wears it for Dexter. Cary’s off-hand groom attire is in perfect harmony–he adjusts a few pleats and looks better than most men would after a butler-supervised prep session. Who’s going to wear the pants in this family seems to be in the bag, for the moment.
At least, until the 2nd honeymoon is over. Does Tracy flout her duty by going back to Dexter? Or does she tend to a more important duty (as dictated by her social group)–the responsibility of being a “true” woman and somewhat subsuming her independence for the man she loves–knowing, as we do, that C. K. Dexter Haven is the one guy on earth who truly understands her and is knows just how to put her in her place–and that place is deep in his heart.
The jury’s out on that one, at least at my house.
Duty calls–are you in?
You’ll have to choose which Hepburn’s choices are a better reflection of your heart, your soul or your situation before following their well-dressed, beautifully portrayed lead. Would you have left Gregory Peck for your country? Would you have gone back to Cary Grant after all that had happened? I guess we’ll just have to watch these films a few hundred more times to decide.