#165 Philadelphia Story
(1940, George Cukor)
“I don’t want to be worshipped, I want to be loved”
I like James Stewart. I think he’s a very fine actor after seeing him in It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr Smith Goes To Washington. I seem to like any movie he’s in, and seems likely to end up on a list of my favourite classic actors as a result. So, by that logic, I should like Philadelphia Story, since he’s got a prominent role, alongside other classic icons like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Is this the case? We shall see.
Philadelphia Story is a story on two themes: jealous ex-lovers and the intrusion of the press. It’s about a wealthy socialite, Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), who is about to marry “man of the people” George Kittredge (John Howard). The wedding soon takes a dramatic turn due to the arrival of her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) along with reporters from the tabloid magazine Spy, Mike Connor (James Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey), who blackmail Tracy into covering her wedding in place of an expose into her father’s affair with a dancer in New York.
So, following on from my intro, I yet again liked James Stewart here. He was still basically playing the same role he always does, but it’s a very likeable role. For some reason, his position as a struggling writer resonated with me (can’t think why…) and he definitely was the focus of many of the most enjoyable scenes in the movie.
It’s a shame that I can’t say the same about much of the rest of the cast. While Cary Grant as Dexter does give an excellent speech about Tracy’s flaws and her inability to accept flaws in others, he’s otherwise pretty flat. He’s a largely uninteresting square-jawed forties cinema stereotype overall, and it’s disappointing considering the man’s fame.
But Hepburn felt a little worse. She doesn’t really display much of an emotional range at times. After finding out she’s being blackmailed early on, what should have been a display of mixed emotions at being forced to choose between slandering her family’s name or having her privacy invaded turned into a matter-of-fact delivery that seemed to almost accept the tabloids’ presence in an instant.
Then there’s the girl who played her much-younger sister, who came across as universally irritating and didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose in the movie at large. The less said about her, the better.
Plot-wise, despite the different attitudes towards marriage and relationships, there are a lot of elements to the plot that stand up. Mike Connor’s struggles as a writer still seem to hold true (although replace “libraries” with “the Internet” for the reason why people aren’t buying his book) and the paparazzi and the tabloids that hire them are still the same heartless privacy intruders (hell, paparazzi courting seems to be a hobby for some less intelligent celebrities). You’d think that this would cause the film to still hold up today.
But it doesn’t. Honestly, I found the film painfully average in almost every way that wasn’t James Stewart being James Stewart. The story generally feels unfocused, the characters generally feel a little bland and there’s nothing particularly interesting about it.
But it’s also not a particularly bad movie, either. It’s one of those films that’s competently made but not particularly engaging, which makes it one of the worst films to review. It’s just kind of there and didn’t grab me in any way. Apart from James Stewart, of course.
So basically, to sum up, not a particularly amazing film, but it does have James Stewart. But hopefully I’ll be able to watch him in a more interesting movie again soon…
Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart & Ruth Hussey
Written by Phillip Barry (play) and Donald Ogden Stewart
Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by Frank Sullivan
Favourite Scene: Pretty much any scene where James Stewart talks about being a struggling writer.
Scene That Bugged Me: The opening scene where Dexter threatens to hit Tracy, shot in a comical way. Yes, attitudes were different, but this was just horrible to watch.
Watch it if: You like 40s romantic comedies
Avoid it if: You think it should have been a movie about James Stewart trying to forge a writing career