6 Classic Young Katharine Hepburn Movies

Philadelphia Story Scene

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Katharine Hepburn had a long and storied Hollywood career, and she didn’t make many bad movies. Whether comedy, drama, or film versions of classic literature, all showed her depth and range in a life that spanned more than 60 years on screen. Here’s a list of Katharine Hepburn movies of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s that no fan of "Kate the Great" should miss. You may want to further explore the films she made in her legendary partnership with longtime love Spencer Tracy in a list of Hepburn-Tracy movies.

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"The African Queen" - 1951

Hepburn’s only pairing with Humphrey Bogart in ​"The African Queen" may be the best work of both classic stars. It ranks with ​"Casablanca" as an adventure film, a thrilling wartime story, and an utterly satisfying romance. Bogart’s rough, uncultured boat captain and Hepburn’s prim English spinster are an unlikely pair hatching a courageous, unlikely plot in Africa during World War I. It’s just as famous for its off-screen adventure, with director John Huston hauling Bogie, Bacall, and Hepburn to the wilderness to film it.

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"Bringing Up Baby" - 1938

This is a fine screwball comedy pairing Hepburn as a ditzy socialite with Cary Grant as a studious, stuffy paleontologist—horn-rim glasses, dinosaur bones and all. The very silly plot also involves a tame leopard named “Baby” and a terrier with a penchant for burying bones—even the fossilized kind. Hijinks ensue, and things get even worse when a rather nasty leopard who looks just like Baby escapes from a circus. Implausible, but it's all adorable.

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"The Philadelphia Story" - 1940

Another pairing with Cary Grant, "The Philadelphia Story," like ​"Holiday," was another vehicle written for Hepburn to play a stubborn society girl, and often it's considered one of her greatest movies. The two glittering stars are joined by Jimmy Stewart in an Oscar-winning role as a reporter smitten with the heiress, Ruth Hussey as his long-suffering photographer, and a strong supporting cast. As with many of her early movies, the attitudes toward wealth and privilege in "The Philadelphia Story" feel strangely dated today, but it’s still a beautiful, funny, passionate film.

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"Holiday" - 1938

Another pairing of Hepburn and Grant, but less well-known than "Bringing Up Baby," "Holiday" is every bit as good and decidedly different. Grant plays an up-from-the-bootstraps young man who wants a job to live, not to make his job his life. He falls in love with a wealthy girl whose family seems to have other ideas. A great supporting cast, a witty script, and easy, charming performances from the two stars make this a film more people should see. Don't miss Grant showing off his real skill as a trained acrobat.

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"Little Women" - 1933

In an early movie version of the beloved and oft-filmed classic novel, Hepburn gets the juiciest role in "Little Women" as Jo, the tomboy of the four March sisters in a genteel yet impoverished family struggling with their father’s absence during the Civil War. Hepburn’s dominance all but crowds out a fine cast and the film is a little too sweet and can’t capture the complex character studies and scope of the book. Nevertheless, "Little Women" is a nice example of an idealistic, classic American book becoming a classic American movie.

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"Morning Glory" - 1933

In just her third film role, Hepburn won her first Oscar as aspiring actress Eva Lovelace, who comes to New York to be a Broadway star, sacrificing all for her goal. Don't miss the real scene where a slightly tipsy Eva quotes Shakespeare at a party, wowing the jaded audience with her power. Adolphe Menjou and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. co-star. "Morning Glory" may be a touch melodramatic, but hey, it's about theater in New York in 1933.