Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Philadelphia Story (1940)


I grew up watching this movie, and have loved it for as long as I can remember.  And not just because I have a serious soft spot for Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart (the latter of whom was awarded an Oscar for his performance in this film).  Rather, I suspect my affection for this film is rooted in its crisp dialogue and zippy one liners.  While Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart are the obvious heavy-hitters, the supporting cast turned in solid performances and earned a lot of laughs in their own right--most notably Ruth Hussey (who garnered an Oscar nomination), Roland Young, and Virginia Weidler.
Hepburn stars as Tracy Lord, a divorced socialite poised to marry a nouveau riche up-and-comer.  Just days before the wedding, her ex husband--likable reformed alcoholic C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant)--shows up, with a cynical tabloid reporter/starving writer (Stewart)--and photographer (Hussey) in tow, both of whom are masquerading as friends of Hepburn's absent brother.  Hijinks ensue.  Hepburn and Stewart are the primary actors in the story, with Grant providing snarky commentary, occasionally manipulating (and relishing) the situation, and generally being mischievous and charming. 

Though ostensibly a sort of screwball romantic comedy, the movie is really about the triumph of grace over the law.  Hepburn is strong willed, moral, and inflexible, and throughout the film she is lambasted by the importance of grace, forgiveness, and love.  The story reflects the morals of the time--drunk driving is harmless fun, and a certain amount of marital unfaithfulness (by men, anyway) is to be expected and can be excused by the failure of a husband's female family members (most notably his daughters) to affirm his masculinity. 

All in all, it's a witty, funny movie, and the stars positively ooze charm, charisma, and chemistry.  There's a reason it garnered nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress.  See it.

NOTE:  Although originally filmed in black and white, the film sparkles more in the colorized version--the decadence of the privileged class is much clearer in color.  These are colorful characters living colorful lives surrounded by colorful possessions and property.  So if you have the option, see the color version.

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