Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Philadelphia Story Heals All Wounds

Last night, I was feeling sort of gloomy but wifey and I watched The Philadelphia Story ("TPS") two consecutive times and felt a heck of a lot better...Anyway, some things that came to mind that I may or may not have mentioned before:

Subtlety: What I love about this movie (and its "sister" film, Holiday) is the subtlety of the material. Time spent watching The Philadelphia Story reveals the movie to be a constant, unfolding joy. The most rewarding aspect about the film is its mature, sophisticated nature; the nuances you catch in the multi-layered performances. Every scene is worth watching and they demand your attention because the performers are giving so much, and there's so much going on! It's a real "actor's movie" without the melodramatic or scenery chewing. For some fine subtle comedic brilliance, get a load of the library scene where Stewart interacts with that librarian bit player--watch Jimmy's mug the entire time and enjoy yourself; he's always in character and reacting to what's going on. In fact, Stewart and Ruth Hussey's roles get better with each viewing. Stewart absolutely deserved his Oscar that year; he never did anything like this role and what a shame he never worked with Hepburn again.

Ruth Hussey-as-Liz under whelmed me the first few times I watched but recently I've grown to love her smart, world-weary, luckless-at-love characterization. She's fantastic in this and shame on me for dismissing her before!

Cary Grant: What's my blogger name again? His performance is covered here.

The famous opening of The Philadelphia Story--when Grant shoves Hepburn to the floor-- is jarring to today's audiences, who no doubt expect a belly laugh here, but as this film is all about subtlety, so the scene works because of what it was supposed to achieve. Despite having zero dialogue, it illustrates why Grant and Hepburn have split, and that domestic dispute shows the audience just how dire their relationship had become. In one brief segment we're told everything we need to know about their breakup and it's a fine storytelling device. The scene is *not* supposed to be funny, though Franz Waxman’s cue here *is* comedic, which prevents this bit from veering off into "serious drama" territory, thereby striking--no pun intended--a fine balance.


  1. Thank thee!!!

    I'm getting a dog this summer, and his name is going to be CK Dexter Haven. I can't wait to call for him: Oh CK DEXTER HAAAAAAAVENNNNN!!

  2. James Stewart's drunk scenes are the best in this film! It makes him so endearing and adorable. Very few actors can make a drunk that cute! "Either your gonna sock me, or I'm gonna sock you!"

  3. This movie is one of these masterpieces performed by virtuoso soloists. There's never been an actor with as much splendour, charm and gloss as Cary Grant. It feels like he was born walking (what a gait!) and wearing a dinner jacket.

  4. The film is a wee bit 'under-age' in my 1933-1937 collection*, but I have it and I find it pretty swell. Unfortunately this masterpiece is overshadowed by "High Society", since my early youth, above all for musical reasons (I always adored Bing and Satchmo is great there). But I have a hunch, there must be an inovermasterable quality in the original, that I will have to discover (as soon as the Golddiggers allow me to invest some time).

    I can understand you absolutely, Haven. A quite similar infection got me, when the Golddiggers came over me to enchant me and my home. Guess tonight I'll have my brandnew "Broadway Melody of 1936", but somehow I feel a yearning for the "Gold Diggers of 1933" - and that after about two weeks Golddiggers on every evening.

    * As for example "My Favorite Wife", which I love very much.

  5. Virginia Weidler is one of my faves in this film. Her rendition of LYDIA cracks me up every time.

  6. I must say something about "Holiday" too. I like the spirit of 30s' revolt in it. Johnny's (Cary Grant) future father-in-law expresses it:

    "There's a strange new spirit at work in the world today - a spirit of revolt."

    And that is what's happening in this film. Revolt against the stupidity of boirgeois attitude. In my early youth I fell in love with 30s music, but then I discovered a certain spirit in the 30s. It's the spirit of revolt. Breeding-gound of new thoughts. And this is what makes the 30s seem so very modern. We can still learn from it.

    - Same happens in my beloved "Gold Diggers of 1933" -

    Well, the "Philadelphia Story" is a tough hit into the center of petit-bougeoisie. To think of that dull egg, Tracy (Katharine Hepburn) was trying to marry.

    This all makes the door wiiiiide open.

  7. Agree, agree, and agree! Such a great film. It never gets old!

  8. Great post! Every time I watch this movie, I remember how much I love it.

  9. AMEN. Most truth I've read all day.


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