The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Another Philadelphia Experiment

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

At the beginning of The Philadelphia Story, Cary Grant pushes Katharine Hepburn to the ground by putting his hand in her face. With any other actor this would be a vile act against a woman but because it’s Cary Grant, it works and thus showing the power of these three acting titans, Hepburn, Grant and Stewart. The Philadelphia Story gives an insight into the lives of the rich and famous, something which would be harder to pull off in later decades not to come off as a metaphorical dick waving display of wealth. I do find myself trying to figure out why this is? Could it be the incredibly high standards of writing and filmmaking craft on display here and the love of these performers; even more so when compared to the poor standard of romantic comedies today?

Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is not a ditzy socialite. In this role written for Hepburn it’s clear that she is a symbol of first wave feminism; wearing pants and an emasculating suit and being an influence on her younger tomboy sister but more importantly, it’s not to be undermined the complex characterisation of Tracy Lord. Like in Holiday, Grant and Hepburn share some very poignant and hard to decipher dialogue in which he tells her about her standing as a goddess and her lack of human frailty. Despite her ego, she claims in a sincere manner “I don’t want to be worshipped, I want to be loved”. Under the surface of the usual Cary Grant charm and elegance, C.K. Dexter Haven is one the darker characters Grant ever played. Apparently he “socked” Tracy on occasions, destroyed the cameras of multiple photographers on a boat and is a recovering alcoholic. This is Cary Grant at his most conniving with no remorse and enjoying it, displaying the darkly comic side of The Philadelphia Story.

However, this is Stewart and Hepburn’s film. Macaulay Connor is the moral, do-gooder James Stewart is known for (at least at the beginning that is); objecting to having been given the assignment of snooping in on the wedding of a Philadelphia socialite, as opposed to something with more journalistic integrity. He is appalled by the rich and their lifestyle but unlike Jefferson Smith he throws this out the window when he falls in love with Tracy; a piece of subtle cynicism on the movie’s part? I also really appreciate the relationship he shares with his work partner Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey). Her character is very cynical throughout most of the film but later reveals her more idealist side. She shares a platonic friendship with Macaulay but there are hints they have deeper feelings for each other. Virginia Weidler, on the other hand, is a real scene stealer. Just look at her speaking French in an overdramatic manner then singing Lydia the Tattooed Lady by the piano; a pointless scene but funny.

I can’t call The Philadelphia Story a predictable movie as I couldn’t see where the story was going at the end. I could have sworn she would end up with Jimmy but at the last minute and totally out of nowhere she goes with Cary and with it coming off as contrived. Likewise, a drunken Stewart carrying Hepburn in his arms while singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow is surely one of the greatest things ever caught on celluloid.

Advertisements

Holiday (1938)

Is This Where the Club Meets?

Holiday is my favourite Cary Grant film and my favourite of Cary Grant & Katharine Hepburn’s partnership. Between this, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story it’s almost like having to choose my favourite child; yes all three are that good but ultimately Holiday is the most beloved of my offspring. I find Kate & Cary to be one of the five greatest instances of chemistry I’ve seen between an actor and actress (my other selections being Astaire & Rogers, Powell & Loy, Stewart & Sullivan and Fonda & Stanwyck), even preferring them to the longer running Tracy-Hepburn partnership.

However, the two stars aren’t actually romantically engaged throughout Holiday, with Johnny Case (Grant) preparing to get married to Julia Seaton (Doris Nolan), the sister of Linda Seaton (Hepburn). This dynamic in which Linda is more passionate about her sister’s relationship than Julia herself and the obvious feelings she has for Johnny is a much more interesting and complex dynamic than the more standard romance. Linda is far more interesting than her comparably dull sister. The whole time I’m thinking to myself Kate & Cary are beyond perfect for each other in this coming together of two intellectuals.  – I simply don’t want to see them being involved with anyone else.

I feel Cary Grant has never looked more youthful than he does in Holiday and even gets a rare opportunity to show off his acrobatic skills, with Hepburn even getting in on the action. I’ll also take this opportunity to mention that man sure could wear clothes like no other. The discussions Kate & Cary engage on what their characters want to do with their lives are so deep and profound. The difficulty of finding their place in life, the obstacles of trying to live it and not wanting to miss out on an ever-changing world full of ideologies and ideas, all while trying to get by with an optimistic attitude despite the imperfections in their life. It’s hard to take it all in on and decipher in a single viewing, which makes Holiday one of my most life-affirming movies.

Katharine Hepburn, on the other hand, had the opportunity in her career to play roles which reflected her real-life personality as a non-conformist oddball. In Holiday she is the black sheep in a wealthy, business-driven family. Linda is a character who comes up with what her family describes as “little ideas” which they outright dismiss. Her “little idea” of throwing an engagement party for Julia in their childhood playroom (a playroom which looks so much fun! You could almost set the entire movie in there) on New Year’s Eve is one of the most powerful and harrowing moments I’ve seen in any film. The feeling of being an outsider and a lonely at that (I know I’ve been there before) has never been captured more effectively on celluloid than it has when Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are dancing alone in the playroom and welcome in the New Year. I do make it an aim during a future new year’s eve to watch Holiday with the film synchronized with real time so I can introduce the new year at the exact same time the character’s in the movie do so.