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Monday, 18 August 2014

Classic Film Review: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The Philadelphia Story stars Katharine Hepburn as socialite Tracy Lord. She's about to be married to the rather boring George Kittredge (John Howard) but ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) is determined to cause mayhem before the ceremony. He's instrumental in getting journalist Mike Connor (James Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) into the wedding but he may not have banked on the attraction that springs up between his ex-wife and Mike.

Picking between the three leads of this film is nearly impossible. Hepburn shines in the role she was born for while Grant is perfect as Dexter. However, if I really had to pick, then it's Jimmy Stewart who steals the show. His drunk scenes with Cary Grant are downright hilarious, I'm smiling just thinking about them. But the chemistry between the cast as a whole is excellent. Ruth Hussey impressed me again (I saw her last month in Tender Comrade, 1943, reviewed here) and her scenes with Stewart are brilliant. There's also one gorgeous scene between Hussey and Grant which lingers in my memory. In addition, I loved the little relationship between the Lord sisters, Tracy and Dinah (Virginia Weidler) and the dynamics of the rest of the family.

The dialogue in this film is fast, witty and sometimes difficult to follow. It's both intelligent and funny, something sadly lacking in many so-called romantic comedies. Hepburn does aloof so well and her crash back down to earth is satisfying and fun to watch. If I had to pick a favourite scene (apart from Stewart's drunk ones), it would probably be the one in the pool house when Dexter interrupts Tracy and Mike and an argument ensues. That scene probably sums up the themes of the film, as well as being brilliant acted by all parties.

I can see why people call this Hepburn's best film. However, my soft spot for Bringing Up Baby (reviewed here) and The African Queen (reviewed here) and, for me, The Philadelphia Story doesn't quite knock them off the top spot. Still an excellent film though.

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