There is something very special, almost magical about watching the movie that stands at the beginning of Katharine Hepburn’s incomparable career. Morning Glory was only her third film but Katharine Hepburn belongs to the remarkable group of actors and actresses who made an overwhelming impression right at the beginning of their career – in 1932, she gave her highly acclaimed debut in A Bill of Divorcement and her distinctive features, her sharp face and her always visible touch of arrogance and aloofness made her appear almost as exotic and fascinating as Greta Garbo. For Katharine Hepburn, everything seemed to have come very easy – fame, praise and Oscars. 1933 would be the beginning of a love affair that lasted almost 50 years when she would receive her fourth award for On Golden Pond – a record that even Meryl Streep couldn’t match (yet). All this makes the beginning of her career even more fascinating. It shows how she was able right from the start to create this famous screen presence, a combination of strong personality and awe-inspiring talent that helped her get to the top right away and stay there for the rest of her life. Her combination of A Bill of Divorcement, Morning Glory, Christopher Strong and Little Women turned her into one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and not even her noticed presumptuousness and her unwillingness to play the existing rules of the game, which made her also highly suspect in the eyes of fans and colleagues and would turn her into ‘box-office-poison’ very soon, would ever change that. Katharine Hepburn did it her way – all her life.
Because of that, Morning Glory certainly holds a strong fascination for every fan and Oscar follower. Because even though 1933 was ‘her’ year, her win for Best Actress was still an unpopular surprise among Academy members since this newcomer lacked all the visible kindness of other winners before her and she surely didn’t possess the sweetness of other successful newcomers who would later win in this category, like Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews or Marlee Matlin. But it was probably this novelty and imparity that made it so impossible for voters to ignore her even though she constantly ignored them. Looking back on the race, it seems perhaps surprising that she wasn’t competing with her most famous part from that year – as Joe in George Cukor’s Little Women. But in some ways, Morning Glory was simply the perfect vehicle to carry this new and exciting star to Oscar gold since she played a new and exciting actress who is hoping for her big break and becomes an overnight sensation on Broadway – Oscar couldn’t ask for a better chance. Besides being new and exciting, this actress named Eva Lovelace seemed to have been a true alter ego of Katharine Hepburn at this stage of her life – she’s young, talented and arrogant. It’s an interesting combination of actress and part because Eva Lovelace seems to inhabit everything that Katharine Hepburn was and still is famous for. So, it must have seemed very logical to reward her for a role that seemed both mirror her own situation and character but also took a darker look at the price of success and showed the vulnerability behind the self-assurance of these young actresses – Eva and Kate.
So, the question after watching Morning Glory is: what went wrong? On paper, it seems to have all the ingredients for a captivating look behind the glamour of show business and at the arrival of a new star, but unfortunately, all these interesting aspects came together in a shockingly banal, lifeless and bland story. And even more shocking: Katharine Hepburn’s performance is just as banal, lifeless and bland. In the part of Eva Lovelace, she lacks everything that usually makes her such a delightful and entertaining screen presence – charm, honest confidence, poise, appeal and, most importantly, the ability to turn every material into gold. If Morning Glory hadn’t starred Katharine Hepburn, it would have disappeared from the face of earth. And even with Katharine Hepburn it surely wouldn’t have been remembered and it can only be attributed to her Oscar win that the film still exists. The problems of Morning Glory can be found in almost every aspect – the script, the character of Eva and the performance of Katharine Hepburn. Morning Glory isn’t the typical backstage-drama it proclaims to be. Actually, there is hardly any backstage or drama. The only clichéd part of the plot is the obligatory diva who leaves the show on opening night and so makes way for the unknown Eva to become an overnight sensation. Before these scenes, the whole story barely touches the theatre world because Eva Lovelace isn’t part of this world herself yet. She’s an unknown, still willing to take lessons, hoping to find a job. Like A Star is Born in 1937, Morning Glory presents a hopeful, naïve young actress at its center and never really concerns itself with the question if this young actress even has the talent to fulfill her dreams. At the same time, the movie takes a surprisingly unconcerned view on its main character – it doesn’t really care who Eva Lovelace is and instead focuses on who she wants to be. Acting seems to be her main goal but somehow this is a largely absent topic even though everybody constantly talks about it – at the beginning, Morning Glory focuses on her ambitions, in the middle it shows how these ambitions were crushed and at the end how they are fulfilled but it’s done in such a rushed way that never connects the character and the story that it becomes almost aimless in it’s presentation. Granted, with only 70 minutes of running time there may have been not enough room to fully develop the characters and the story but even these 70 minutes are spend very unwisely and a much better movie easily could have been made with this running time. The movie focuses on Eva Lovelace as its main character but at the same time it so often drops her or pushes her to the side even when she is actually in the center of a scene that it’s impossible for the viewer to follow the intentions of the story – are we supposed to admire Eva, pity her, hate her, love her? This doesn’t mean that the movie leaves room for interpretation – it actually makes it very clear that we should love Eva but unfortunately neither the script nor Katharine Hepburn give any reason why we should.