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.