The Philadelphia Story (1940) Directed by George Cukor
Good Romantic Comedies are in short supply. I actually can't remember the last one I saw that really made me laugh. Woody Allen hasn't made anything of note in recent years and the deluge of Jennifer Aniston/ Sandra Bullock drivel is enough to make you cry not laugh. That's why for me The Philadelphia Story is a must, almost a textbook exercise in the genre. So Richard Curtis, take note. This 70 year old picture is still razor sharp. It almost bites with it's cynicism, wit and intelligence.
A rich woman, Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is to marry again, this time into new money. Her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) gatecrashes on the eve of the wedding with two gossip journalists from Spy magazine in tow. Haven uses the ruse of journalistic blackmail to try to win back his former wife. One of the journalists, poor author Macaulay Connor (James Stewart), once over his upper class prejudice, falls for Tracy on the eve of her wedding. They frolic, dance and swim after one too many drinks. Was there an indiscretion? How will Tracy's husband to be, working class business man George (John Howard) take it? How will Connor's journalist sidekick and girlfireind Liz (Ruth Hussey) react? As for Tracy's over rich family, what will they make of the stew? And will C.K. Dexter Haven win his ex back?
I've watched this many times in wonder at the richness of the dialogue, Cukor's pacey direction and the wonderful performances. This saved Hepburn's career (friend Howard Hughes bought her the script rights). It confirmed Grant as the distinguished leading man he was to become and James Stewart is just his usual brilliant self. Every other character is significant and completes the feeling of a great ensemble piece. They even manage to throw in discussions on the American class system. A timeless film that is still funny and romantic after all these years. Hollywood heaven.
The Philadelphia Story moves in the same classic genre of great entertainment as any Allen film for me. We watched it yesterday because we wanted to be certain of what we got. Super witty and straight-up acting and script from 1940. How come they talked so much more openly then about alcoholism and hangovers for example?
I relate to Katharine Hepburn. The Redhead. And she must have related to her role as Tracy Lord. It is ridiculous of course, to strongly identify with characters in a film, but if I cannot find anyone in a movie to identify with, it's not great for me. I want to personalize the magic. I like to think that somehow the film is a little bit about me as well.
Tracy Lord has set such high moral expectation towards herself and others that she and people close to her struggle to meet them. Therefore she is on a mission to cover up her failure (and her father's) by marriage because admitting weakness just won't do. Drinking and having extra marital affairs count as failures in this movie. To add to this psychological condition, other people see Tracy as a statue-like goddess of perfection. The expectation from all direction is to be something inhumanly beautiful.
Oh, the struggle to be a perfect woman, daughter and a wife. And to be in control and make once own choices. I cannot believe that someone wrote such a portrait of a woman in 1939. All the actors look astonishing in this film, their suits and dresses hang perfectly and in bright color (I'm certain even though it's in black and white). The only strange outfit is Tracy's wedding dress with a strange square of fabric fastened over her lungs and breast. Is it saying that a marriage is a lung-crusher? At least Katharine never got married in real life.