Friday, July 25, 2014

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

     The Philadelphia Story (1940) [D: George Cukor. Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart et al] Tracy Lord (Hepburn) is about to remarry, this time to George Kittredge (John Howard), a stuffy up-from-the-ranks mid-level executive. Her ex C. K Haven (Grant)  arranges for Macaulay Connor (Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussy) of Spy magazine to pose as friends of Junior Lord and so get the story and the photos that will boost Spy’s circulation. The perfect mix of characters and situation for a successful rom-com, with elements of coming-of-age, social comedy, and satire of the tabloid business, which was beginning to morph into the rapacious sludge-dwellers that we love to detest.
     The movie is beautifully photographed (Joseph Ruttenberg). The editing is well done (Frank Sullivan), but the pace seems slow compared to current practice. The acting is near-perfect, a lovely mix of stereotype and playing against type. Stars have a difficult task: to provide what the audience expects without become mere cartoons. Grant, Hepburn, and Stewart deliver. The script is based on a play, which accounts for the throw-away one-liners, and the complex dialogue. This is one of the few movies that you have to listen to as well as watch.
     The character actors show why Hollywood could churn out well-crafted movies week after week: they supply the base on which the stars are built. A director who knows how to use them will make a better movie. Cukor knows how to use all his cast. The movie is usually classed as comedy of manners, but it’s more than that. Cukor is sometimes under-rated because he specialised in these movies designed for a primarily female audience. I like them, perhaps because I read a lot of women’s fiction in my mother’s magazines, so I can recognise an above average example when I see it. This is definitely above average. Recommended. ***½

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