Today! Because to hardly know him is to know him well –
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Directed by George Cukor
Starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant (x4), James Stewart (x3), Ruth Hussey, Roland Young, John Howard, John Halliday, Mary Nash, Virginia Weidler, Henry Daniell (x2)
The old time theater guy in me just can’t get enough of kinda stagey goofball comedies of seven and eight decades gone by, and few are more entertaining than Cukor’s acrobatically wordy The Philadelphia Story. It just manages to not feel like a play – what with the brilliant, wordless opening sequence, and shifting some action to a handful of remote locations – while also feeling as locked in as, say, 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or every adaptation of The Iceman Cometh or Long Day’s Journey Into Night ever made. Hell, Animal Crackers is little more than the filmed stage play, and even it manages to counter Philadelphia Story cinematically, for the most part.
This is not to criticize this movie, unless you really hate stagey films. Some stories just work when laid out in this fashion, and the weekend wedding of Tracy Lord and George Kittredge (how theatrical a setting is that!) fits neatly and logically into the confines of the play. Add in the perfectly cast Katherine Hepburn (okay, the role was written for her), Cary Grant doing his impeccable Cary Grant impression, and Oscar-winning Jimmy Stewart as the third side of the love triangle – which yes, does not include the dude Tracy is marrying, John Howard’s George – and you’ve got a classic, even if the plot was a genre all its own in the day – the remarrying comedy. I mean, how improbable and lazy was Hollywood in this era where they continually pushed the idea that a divorced or divorcing couple would banter around comically and end up back together by the end? Come on! But a ton of Hollywood classics picked up this story – The Awful Truth, It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday, The Lady Eve – and, okay, it was largely due to the Hays Code’s limitations of illicit behavior and adultery in movies. But man, what a recycled time to be alive for moviegoers!
The movie does make a few terrific additions to Philip Barry’s rock solid play – mostly in the form of scenes for Grant’s C.K. Dexter Haven and Stewart’s Macaulay Connor, who largely gets shuffled to the side of the play, as again, it was a full-on Hepburn vehicle. In fact, Stewart’s Oscar win is often attributed to the wonderful, drunken tête-à-tête between Dexter and Macaulay, included by screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart, possibly upon discovering that the two male leads had virtually no exclusive moments together in the picture.
And you know, I’ve never seen High Society, the Grace Kelly/Bing Crosby/Frank Sinatra musical remake of this movie. I think it’s supposed to be okay, and it’s not like Bing and Frank made a ton of movies together (really, outside Robin and the 7 Hoods, what’ve ya got?). Gotta get that on the list, I guess. These digressions are more for me than for you, I’m sure you understand.
Philadelphia Story nabbed six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress for Hussey, and won for Actor Stewart and Screenplay Stewart. But nowhere was the madcap rendition of “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” by Tracy’s dramatic little sister Dinah (terrifically funny work from Virginia Weidler) honored! For shame!
#291 Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror‘s Henry Daniell joins the Two-Timers, but it’s leads Stewart (#303 After the Thin Man, #170 Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Grant (#316 North by Northwest, #370 Notorious, #302 Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) making the greatest strides, moving to the Threes and Fours, respectively!
Coming tomorrow! Olive, I think you should know this – you’re a horrible actress –