If Katharine Hepburn hadn’t won her first Oscar for Morning Glory, the film wouldn't even merit being the answer to a trivia question; it’s just not a memorable movie. It’s a underdeveloped blend of What Price Hollywood (1932) and A Star is Born (1937) while lacking the superior writing and direction of those films. Morning Glory attempts to inject “cautionary fame” dialogue but it’s only dumped in at the end. The performance by Hepburn could be considered a warmup of sorts to Hepburn’s Alice Adams character, as her Eva Lovelace is just as naïve and foolishly romantic as Alice Adams was, only without the emotional power and sympathy.
Morning Glory is the story of Eva Lovelace, a naïve ingénue who has romantic aspirations in the world of the theatre. She arrives at the office of Lewis Easton (Adolphe Menjou) and playwright Joseph Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) hoping for her big break. She ends up being defiled, dumped, and dismissed by Easton after a drunken fling at a party, but not before we see what a talent Eva is when she does a drunken rendition of Hamlet, moving Sheridan to tears! Eva winds up doing vaudeville shtick until the play’s greedy leading lady bows out of Easton’s play and Eva must step in at the last minute to save the day and achieve the fame she seeks.
Despite being a pre-Code film—there's some innuendo and women in undergarments that warrant one’s notice—Morning Glory is a half-baked drama that never makes its move. We never feel for Eva Lovelace like we would Alice Adams. The film does boast a top-notch cast: Adolphe Menjou, playing another stage producer like he would in Stage Door, only without the wit; Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as the playwright, spends the duration of the movie with a pipe stuck in his mug (because writers always smoke pipes) when he's not half-heartedly fawning over Hepburn; C. Aubrey Smith, who’s charming and not his usual blustery, "Pip-Pip" self but he's woefully underused. An interesting thing to notice about the actors here is that the men are all quite naturalistic in their performances while the women (save Kate) play their parts with over-the-top gusto.
As for Hepburn’s performance, she’s fine but her character is surprisingly one note and woefully underdeveloped, with little script and helpful direction to flesh out her character. Director Lowell Sherman is no George Cukor or George Stevens, that’s for sure. One laments what those two directors could’ve done with this material. The film is a brief 73 minutes but the first twenty is spent in a static scene in Menjou’s office where he and Dougie, Jr. are trying to cast the latter’s play. This is where the film does its cast a disservice. Morning Glory could’ve packed more character study into its lean running time instead of flailing away at a plot that’s even leaner. Hepburn's not even on screen as much as she should be! Besides that, the narrative lets her character down, as we don't get to see her trials in her quest to be a great actress; they're mentioned in an offhand way to no dramatic effect.
The Bottom Line: Morning Glory is notable only for being Katharine Hepburn’s first Oscar winner—she beat out May Robson in Lady for a Day and Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade. After seeing Morning Glory it only makes me wish that Kate had lost the Oscar and instead won it for Alice Adams or The Philadelphia Story instead of for this forgettable effort.