Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. After graduating from Bryn Mawr College she began her stage career, and a few years later found Hollywood success in the 1930s. She went on to amass 51 film and television credits between 1932 and 1994. As we celebrate her birthday today, the following are my five favorite Katharine Hepburn films (at the moment. All of her films are great, and the ranking often changes as I re-watch them).

Katharine and Bogie for The African Queen (Image: prodeoetpatria.wordpress)
Katharine and Bogie for The African Queen (Image: prodeoetpatria.wordpress)

5. The African Queen
Released: February 20, 1952 (LA premiere: December 23, 1951)
Directed by: John Huston
Hepburn’s role: Rose Sayer
Co-starring: Bogie
Even my grandpa who never watches movies loves this movie. I’m not usually huge on adventure films but with such great lead performances by Hepburn and Bogart, I can’t help but love this one. I’ve been particularly jazzed on it lately because a few months ago I picked up the book that she wrote about her experience of filming it (The Making of the African Queen: or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind, and aw yeah, I got a first edition!) and since my busier semester is over I’m super super SUPER excited to finally start reading it.

4. Suddenly, Last Summer
Released: December 22, 1959
Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Hepburn’s role: Violet Venable
Co-starring: Liz Taylor, Monty Clift
The writing of Tennessee Williams, whose play this film is based on, can be a bit of an acquired taste. I happen to love most of his plays, and the films based on them. Suddenly, Last Summer is no exception. I discovered it through a blind purchase in early 2012 and gave it a near-perfect 4.5/5 score here on the blog. Liz Taylor’s performance in the film is obviously impressive but Hepburn was the real standout for me, giving her character the perfect sinister edge and conflicted mental state.

3. Keeper of the Flame
Released: December 1942
Directed by: George Cukor
Hepburn’s role: Christine Forrest
Co-starring: Spencer Tracy
I’ll probably get some crap from fellow Hepburn fans for including this one on the list. For most people, it falls pretty low on the ranking of Hepburn-Tracy films. As I explained in my George Cukor tribute last year, though, he may have hated the final result of the film but I always enjoy watching it. Where Cukor saw Hepburn’s performance as stiff (due mostly to the low-grade material she was given to work with), I find the film quite exciting. The loss of tension that Cukor saw in the second half of the film wasn’t present for me. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen this one and I’m due for a re-watch, but I stand by my love of it, even if I’m its only fan!

Advertisement for Bringing Up Baby (Image: impawards.com)
Advertisement for Bringing Up Baby (Image: impawards.com)

2. Adam’s Rib
Released: November 18, 1949 (NYC premiere: December 25, 1949)
Directed by: George Cukor
Hepburn’s role: Amanda Bonner
Co-starring: Spencer Tracy
Surprise, surprise… another film directed by Cukor and co-starring Spencer Tracy. Tracy and Hepburn partake in the ultimate battle of the sexes as a husband and wife working on opposite sides of a murder case. This is one of their best films together, and it’s of a wonderful brand of romantic comedy that we don’t see in Hollywood anymore. This will always be one of my absolute favorite Katharine Hepburn films.

1. Bringing Up Baby
Released: February 18, 1938 (SF premiere: February 16, 1948)
Directed by: Howard Hawks
Hepburn’s role: Susan
Co-starring: Cary Grant
No one should be baffled by the fact that my top KH film also stars Cary Grant, The Most Beautiful Man Ever. But no matter who’s starring, this is one of the best screwball comedies ever made.  Grant and Hepburn play so well off of each other, and both give fantastic comedic performances.

It can be difficult to do legendary stars like Katharine Hepburn justice in these little tributes that I like to write. Happy birthday to a woman who remains, without a doubt, one of the most well-respected (and most talented) actresses of the classic era.