|THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)|
|"I'm testing the air. I like it but it doesn't like me."|
|Time: 112 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Stewart) and Best Screenplay. Nominations for 4 other awards.
In their fourth and final onscreen pairing, Grant and Hepburn are joined for the first and only time by Jimmy Stewart. It's amazing that their careers didn't cross again in light of the prodigious film output of all three actors. Directed by George Cukor, the trio makes the most of their time together, creating memorable characters you'll want to spend time with over and over again. At least I do. By this time, Grant and Hepburn had perfected their comic partnership, giving their once married characters an extra spark of flair and intimacy that would have been lacking if others had been cast. Stewart never seems quite comfortable with the antics of his co-stars, but that's only to the films' advantage, since he's supposed to be a disapproving outsider.
The film opens on the eve of the wedding of socialite Tracy Lord and the dawn of a scandal involving her father and a chorus girl. She's beside herself with anger, but still manages to put on a happy face for her husband-to-be George Kittridge (Howard). She's also displeased that she can't seem to get rid of her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant). She wants to start her new marriage with a clean slate and the men from her past seem intent on screwing that up. In fact, her father's little rumored dalliance has brought about two new guests to the party, undercover tabloid reporters, Mike Connor (Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Hussey). They claim to be friend's of her brother, but Dexter lets the family in on their secret. Their publisher Sidney Kidd will hold on the story of Mr. Lord and the dancer if Tracy gives full access regarding the wedding. Mike, who considers himself an honest writer is disgusted with the whole affair and lets Dexter in on a few of Mr. Kidds nasty secrets. Together, they plot to put an end to the publisher's blackmailing career.
In the meantime, Tracy puts on quite a show for the "friends." With Dexter spouting off about their marriage and what a cold, unfeeling goddess she was, Tracy turns to Mike for friendship and consolation. After drinking a lot of champagne at the rehearsal party, they become fast friends, taking a midnight swim. Tracy awakes the next morning hours before her wedding with a massive hangover and no clear recollection of her actions. According to the evidence, it doesn't look very good. All she recalls is going for a swim with Mike. Somehow Dexter has her jewelry and she finds Mike's watch in her room. It looks like the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Her fiance is highly displeased with her behavior, but still offers to go through with the ceremony if she promises never to act that way again. Give up drinking and having fun, no way. She is who she is and if George can't accept that, she'd only make him grossly unhappy. In the end, she discovers she's not perfect and winds up with the man who truly loves her, crazy drunkenness and all.
It's hard to put the antic nature of this film into words. It certainly doesn't have the high-energy craziness of BRINGING UP BABY, but it's still more along the screwball lines than a traditional romance. There are several subplots involving Tracy's younger sister Dinah, her Uncle Willy and the unexpected arrival of their father. Everyone has a part to play and they all perform admirably. The dialogue is clever, witty and occasionally mean-spirited. It comes fast and furious, leaving the audience little time to breathe in between barbs. Grant is his attractive, sympathetic, well-dressed self, who makes it quite clear he's still in love with his ex-wife. Hepburn is a little more high-strung than usual, but when she finally lets her hair down in the last third of the film, you'll fall in love with her too. Stewart brings normalcy and honesty to the film, which keeps it from being about just another spoiled rich girl and her troubles with love.
If you're looking for an honest, sophisticated, romantic, adult comedy, you can't do much better than this. This film captures not only its' cast, but its' director at their prime. There are reasons a movie becomes a classic and this one encompasses every one.