Thursday, November 10, 2011

#451. The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Directed By: George Cukor

Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart

Tag line: "Broadway's howling year-run comedy hit of the snooty society beauty who slipped and fell - IN LOVE!"

Trivia:  Although George Cukor was not usually a very physical director, Katharine Hepburn incorporated some of his mannerisms into her performance

Philadelphia socialite C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) learns that his ex-wife, the headstrong and arrogant Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn), is about to marry the eternally nice but extremely boring George Kitteridge (John Howard). To make matters worse, a local Philadelphia magazine is, at the same time, set to publish an expose on Tracy’s womanizing father (John Halliday). In an effort to squash the potentially scandalous story, C.K. makes a deal with the magazine’s editor, promising to sneak reporter Macauley Conner (James Stewart) and a photographer (Ruth Hussey) into his ex-wife's wedding, thus giving the magazine an exclusive scoop on the society event of the year. But C.K. has his own motives for doing so, namely that he's hoping to foul up the wedding and win Tracy back for himself. Of course, things get a bit complicated when the reporter, Conner, also falls in love with Tracy, even though she stands for everything he detests. 

Despite its many characters and situations, The Philadelphia Story is ultimately the tale of Tracy Lord, the snide socialite who abhors imperfection. As a matter of principle, she refuses to invite her estranged father to her wedding, even though her mother (Mary Nash) is still in love with him. Tracy also maintains a contemptuous relationship with C.K., who, rumor has it, slugged her the day their marriage ended (actually, he just shoved her to the ground). Hepburn's Tracy is tough as nails and won’t stand for a man’s indiscretions, which explains her impending marriage to Kitteridge. In him, she's found a mate who'll adore her, obey her, and bend over backwards if she so desires. Enter Macauley Conner, the tabloid columnist and aspiring poet, who, with his strong opinions, is able to open the young woman’s eyes. Whereas Tracy can’t abide imperfection, Conner loathes high society and all the phony prestige that goes with it. He is the perfect counterweight to Tracy, and his very manner stirs something inside of her. 

Saying Katherine Hepburn was born to play the part of Tracy Lord is not the cliché it appears to be. Fact is, playwright Philip Barry, who wrote the original stage version of The Philadelphia Story, supposedly based the character on Ms. Hepburn, who at the time was suffering from a rather poor public image. Seen as aloof and even arrogant by an unforgiving public, Hepburn’s movie career was on the rocks. Her performance in The Philadelphia Story, first on stage and then screen, changed all that. It was as if Hepburn herself had transformed from the upper-class snob the public believed her to be into a gentle, vulnerable woman. Because of the success of The Philadelphia Story, Katherine Hepburn was no longer deemed box-office poison, and would go on to appear in some of the greatest motion pictures ever made. 

I wonder if there’s a better example of life imitating art?

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