Alice Adams – George Stevens
If Alice’s romance has reached a crisis point on this hot, humid evening, so have the affairs of her father. Walter tells him he has embezzled one hundred and fifty dollars from Lamb’s firm and could be sent to jail. Lamb himself pays a visit and informs Adams he is starting a glue factory of his own, which will mean ruin for Adams. Though Alice’s hopes may have been destroyed, she is determined to save her father’s dreams if she can. In an emotional scene she persuades Lamb that it is the fault of her and her mother that her father defected. After her plea Lamb agrees to work something out to save both her father and her brother.
The film continues in this fairy-tale manner as Alice goes back out onto the porch to find Russell still there. She will keep her Prince Charming and have a happy ending. When Russell tells her he loves her, her response is the most natural and unaffected thing she says in the whole film—”Gee Whiz!”
Although Alice Adams makes some trenchant comments on middle-class society, particularly in the dance and dinner scenes, and although the argu¬ments between Mr. and Mrs. Adams are sharply realized and almost painful to watch, the film is not wholly successful as social commentary, primarily because of the unrealistic happy ending which was tacked on by the scriptwriters. In the Booth Tarkington novel on which the film was based, Russell leaves and does not return, and Alice actually does climb the stairs to the business college to get a job. It is doubtful, however, that the moviegoing public of the 1930’s would have accepted such a downbeat ending (or so the studio believed). Even Tarkington thought the novel’s ending would have to be changed before it could be filmed.
Aside from the ending, the film is a perfectly realized portrait of an intelligent, socially ambitious young woman, struggling to find a foothold in a society that has left her and her family behind. At a time when a woman’s only socially acceptable career was marriage, Alice looked upon a job as the last resort, and as one which would spell the end of her social aspirations.
The role is sensitively played by a luminous, tremulous Katharine Hepburn. Although Alice’s mannerisms and snobbishness are tiresome, we nevertheless become emotionally involved with her and sympathize with her. This is due in no small measure to Hepburn’s skill at letting the essential loneliness and vulnerability of the heroine shine through her artificial society manners. It is one of Hepburn’s most memorable performances of the 1930’s. The rest of the cast lends excellent support, particularly Fred Stone and Ann Shoemaker as Alice’s parents, and Hattie McDaniel in a bit part as the hapless Malena. Fred MacMurray is not required to do much except look handsome and romantic, but he is certainly credible as the Prince Charming of a young woman’s dreams. All in all, the film is a touching, sometimes realistic, some¬times romantic portrait of small-town life.