A Woman Rebels (1936): Mark Sandrich’s Historical Drama, Starring Katharine Hepburn, Van Heflin (in his Debut), and Donald Crisp

Mark Sandrich directed A Woman Rebels, an historical drama adapted from the 1930 novel Portrait of a Rebel by Netta Syrett and starring Katharine Hepburn as Pamela Thistlewaite, who rebels against the social mores of Victorian England.

Woman Rebels

Theatrical release poster

It was the film debut of Van Heflin, and the second last film of David Manners.

Hepburn’s performance as the defiant young woman is considered by some critics the epitome of her feminist characterizations of the 1930s.

In Victorian London, Pamela defies her autocratic father (Donald Crisp), and has a baby out of wedlock with her lover, Gerald Waring Gaythorne (Van Heflin, in his screen debut).

When Pamela’s pregnant sister Flora (Elizabeth Allan) hears of the death of her young husband, she hurts herself and dies.

Pamela then raises her illegitimate daughter as her niece and becomes a crusading journalist for women’s rights.

Eventually she agrees to marry diplomat Thomas Lane (Herbert Marshall) after being unfairly named as co-respondent in Gaythorne’s divorce.

With a box office loss estimated at $222,000 for RKO, this was Hepburn’s third flop in a row which contributed to Hepburn being one of the actors labeled “box office poison” in the infamous 1938 advertisement created by Harry Brandt, president of the Independent Theatre Owners of America.


Katharine Hepburn as Pamela Thistlewaite
Herbert Marshall as Thomas Lane
Elizabeth Allan as Flora Anne Thistlewaite
Donald Crisp as Judge Byron Thistlewaite
Doris Dudley as Young Flora
David Manners as Lieutenant Alan Craig Freeland
Lucile Watson as Betty Bumble
Van Heflin as Lord Gerald Waring Gaythorne
Marilyn Knowlden as Flora (age 9)
Connie Emerald as Lady Gaythorne
Barnett Parker as Lady Gaythorne’s Lawyer
Leonard Carey as Lord Gaythorne’s Butler
Elspeth Dudgeon as Lord Gaythorne’s Maid
Eily Malyon as Miss Piper
Doris Lloyd as Mrs. Seaton
Molly Lamont as Young Mother
Lillian Kemble-Cooper as Lady Rinlake


Directed by Mark Sandrich
Screenplay by Ernest Vajda, Anthony Veiller, based on Portrait of a Rebel, 1930 novel by Netta Syrett
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Cinematography Robert De Grasse
Edited by Jane Loring
Music by Roy Webb

Production and Distribution: RKO Pictures

Release date: November 6, 1936

Running time: 88 minutes
Budget: $574,000
Box office: $583,000

Films Directed by Mark Sandrich

Runaway Girls (1928)

The Talk of Hollywood (1929)

Melody Cruise (1933)

So This Is Harris! (1933)

Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men (1933)

Hips, Hips, Hooray! (1934)

Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934)

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

Top Hat (1935)

Follow the Fleet (1936)

A Woman Rebels (1936)

Shall We Dance (1937)

Carefree (1938)

Man About Town (1939)

Buck Benny Rides Again (1940)

Love Thy Neighbor (1940)

Skylark (1941)

Holiday Inn (1942)

So Proudly We Hail! (1943)

I Love a Soldier (1944)

Here Come the Waves (1944)