Woman Rebels A (1936)
Directed by Mark Sandrich with a screenplay co-written by Anthony Veiller (Stage Door (1937)) this above average if dated drama is about a young woman in (merry olde?) 19th century England who refuses to accept her position in the World imposed on her by her father. Some years later Katharine Hepburn in the title role becomes an outspoken advocate for women’s rights. The plot includes a romantic angle or two or three with a provocative secret which humanizes Hepburn’s character and keeps it from being an offensive piece of feminist propaganda. However audiences of the time stayed away leading Ms. Hepburn to be famously labeled “box office poison” before she would prove her critics wrong by establishing herself as one of the greatest actresses in the history of the medium. The cast includes several familiar actors & actresses including Herbert Marshall Donald Crisp Lucile Watson and Van Heflin.
A young Pamela Thistlewaite (Hepburn) tells her younger sister Flora (Elizabeth Allen) not to cry when their cold and tyrannical widower father Judge Thistlewaite (Crisp) lectures them. He insists that their homely serious governess (Eily Malyon uncredited) teach them that as women they should accept their role as subservient inferiors to men. Another live-in servant Betty (Watson) isn’t so sure and resists the Judge’s “orders” in passive aggressive ways. The Judge decides it’s time to introduce his daughters to society so that he can select appropriate husbands for them. Pamela tells Flora that she must marry for love and fortunately for her she falls for a Lieutenant Alan Freeland (David Manners) of whom her father approves. Meanwhile Pamela is swept off her feet by Gerald Waring (Heflin). They have an affair after which Waring confesses that he’s a married man afraid to divorce his wife for the scandal which would cause his father Lord Gaythorne to cut off his means. So Pamela runs away to Italy with Betty to visit newlyweds Flora and Alan who’s stationed there.
On their way Betty and Pamela embarrassingly meet Thomas Lane (Marshall) a diplomat who turns out to be a house guest of the Freelands. Pamela and Thomas spend some quality time together before he and Alan must return to duty in England and at sea respectively. Pamela confesses to Flora her love for Waring as well as her growing physical “condition”. When Flora later learns that Alan was killed at sea and conveniently falls down the stairs ending her own pregnancy she suggests a “solution” to Pamela’s predicament before she dies: Pamela can pretend that her baby is Flora’s that she’s raising it for her departed sister. Returning to England with Betty and the child also named Flora Pamela is pleasantly surprised by Thomas who assists them with getting a goat (e.g. for fresh milk) aboard their boat. She then tells him that she plans on living alone and working a foreign concept at the time. Actually Betty lives with her effectively raising young Flora through the years.
Eventually Pamela finds work writing for a women’s magazine which up to that point had never employed a woman! Her relationship with Thomas blossoms to the point that he proposes but fearing a scandal which might ruin his career if anyone were to find out the truth about young Flora she gently declines though they remain friends through the years. The magazine she works for publishes articles about cooking & sewing until one day when its editor (Lionel Pape uncredited) is ill inspired by a penniless woman in a similar predicament who kills herself Pamela writes a scathing article about the puritanical society that “caused” it. Rushing in to stop the presses the editor is surprised to learn that instead of he being arrested London’s women are clamoring for more issues of the magazine. Hence Pamela becomes the voice of the oppressed woman and is so successful that she eventually establishes her own magazine.
Meanwhile young Flora (Doris Dudley) has grown up. Irony of ironies is the fact that she falls for Gerald Waring Jr. meaning the truth of Flora’s parentage is bound to come out. Perhaps the weakest part of the film is this final third act which includes a meeting between Gerald Sr. and Pamela for the first time in 20 years that leads to consequences she couldn’t possibly foresee even though its ending is decidedly upbeat if perhaps a bit too pat.