Monday, February 15, 2016

1940s Week: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Written for 1940s Week hosted by An Old Fashioned Girl. ❤

Instead of focusing on fashion or strictly the era in this post for The Philadelphia Story I decided instead to focus on the characters and the plot. Yes, it's 1940s, and I admit that the guys are gorgeous in their suits, but the story itself is what needs to be discussed. Although I will say that Katharine Hepburn wears one of the most bizarre hats that I've ever seen in her scene in the library. It's just weird.

I am warning everyone ahead of time that this post is a bit of a harsh critique against The Philadelphia Story. So if this movie is one of your favorite classic films of all time, you may want to skip reading my post. I would hate to truly offend anyone, but I also am not going to hide the fact that this movie disturbs me on many levels and that, for me, it's not a comedy.

Fortunately, there are many other films from the 1940s and I've recently discovered that I LOVE Casablanca so I'll be writing on that film sometime this week, so stay tuned. ❤

Back to the post at hand, I've finally done something that I've been meaning to do for the last decade, but held off on doing because I didn't like it the first time I tried it. I've finally finished The Philadelphia Story.

Unfortunately, all I've managed to do is prove to myself that my dislike of a decade ago is justified.

BUT, I also discovered that my appreciation for James Stewart as a versatile and skilled actor is also justified.

Whereas Cary Grant always plays himself in every role I've ever seen him in, Jimmy Stewart proved himself, time and again, to be a character actor of the highest caliber. And, as it stands, he plays the only character in The Philadelphia Story that I genuinely liked, well, apart from Ruth Hussey in a secondary role as Liz Imbrie and little Virginia Weidler as Dinah, Hepburn's younger sister. This is, of course, nothing against Cary Grant as an actor. There is a certain comfort in knowing an actor will always be who you expect him to be, no matter the era or role, and I love Grant for that steadiness.

As for the film itself, are you familiar with it?

If not, the story goes something like this. Rich socialite (Hepburn) has a divorce under her belt (Grant) and is planning to marry a second husband (John Howard) only to have ex-husband show up two days before her wedding with a reporter (Stewart) and a photographer (Hussey) in tow from a local magazine to do a story on the proceedings, all because of blackmail, of course.

This movie is one of the most highly renowned in classic Hollywood history and I'll be hornswaggled if I know why. If you like it, my deepest and most profound apologies to you, but I can't understand it.

The majority of the film is spent with an extremely selfish young lady who has no moral compass whatsoever, and yet three men appear to be crazy in love with her. I suppose I could feel sorry for the poor little rich girl, but I don't, although I am happy to report that she and Grant's character do end up together again at the end of the film. Good because they deserve each other.

Yet even Stewart falls for Hepburn's high-brow attitude, drinks more champagne in a single evening than most people do in a year, and ends up nearly taking Hepburn to bed, a major part of the plot that becomes a big issue. The night before her wedding? I can't imagine why. This film is such a good example of an immoral lifestyle and makes no apologies for it.
I'll give kudos to the screenwriter, Donald Ogden Stewart, for two things. He wrote an extremely sharp, witty screenplay and alluded to illicit sex. I'm sure the daring immorality is what makes The Philadelphia Story so popular, even today. I, on the other hand, prefer to call a horse a horse, so even though Hepburn's and Stewart's characters did NOT actually sleep together, I was a bit amazed the script went as far as it did in intimating they might have. This isn't, after all, A Streetcar Named Desire, which was filmed over a decade later, and even then had to be tempered from the original play.

Yes, the comedic moments, what there were of them, were hilarious. The comebacks are quick and bright and so the dialogue lacked nothing. My sister even laughed, since I pleaded with her to watch it with me, and I didn't expect her to be that entertained. But about halfway through our interest started lagging, my eyes started drooping, and I couldn't believe anyone had paid Cary Grant $137,000 to simply perform as himself, regardless of whether he donated the money to British War Relief or not.

If viewers don't mind an immoral montage of modern marriage in 1940, then I'm sure The Philadelphia Story will delight. At least in A Streetcar Named Desire, immoral behavior is still immoral behavior and is supposed to leave a greasy, disgusting feeling in the pit of your stomach. But here we're supposed to gaily laugh and move on as if nothing had happened.

So, overall I consider The Philadelphia Story to be overrated and apparently a desperate attempt made by Katharine Hepburn to redeem her lagging career since she'd delivered several box office bombs prior to The Philadelphia Story. Yes, she gives an authentic performance, but I wouldn't wish that character on anyone. The one guy I think she should have married is the moral, upstanding man who was horrified that his bride-to-be may have slept with another man and can't remember. But, of course, he's the one she doesn't choose. Instead she returns to the man who shoved her to the floor on his way out the door. No thank you.

My takeaway?

Jimmy Stewart is a genius. I loved every element of his performance, start to finish, and I can see why he won Best Actor at the Oscars that year. He deserved it.

As for the movie itself, at least I can say I watched it. And will say, in all honesty, never again. Not even for Jimmy Stewart.


  1. This is pretty much the impression I had the only time I saw it -- immorality that didn't even pretend it WASN'T immorality, which kinda shocked me for the time.

    1. It's interesting how my opinion hasn't changed, all these years later. I was hoping that maybe it wasn't as bad morally as I remembered, but it was. Which is why I both understand why modern audiences love it and am equally repelled by that love.

  2. Well, I'm passing on reading this because, as you mentioned, this IS one of my favorite classic movies ;D , but I just wanted to pop in and say that I think your new header/general look is beautiful!

    1. Hi, Olivia, well, I'm glad you didn't read my post then because Jimmy Stewart was pretty much the only thing I praised in the entire thing. I'm one in a very small minority who feels the way I do about this film, so oh well. I'm used to it.

      And thanks for the compliment on my header! Season 3 is just around the corner, so happy!

    2. Yay another fan! :)

      I seem to be in the minority on this comment thread, but... I will just say, I really like this movie. Or that's my memory of it. ;) I can remember giggling my way through it after a rental which inspired me to buy a copy of it later on. I'll have to re-watch it sometime and see if it's still as amusing. :D

  3. You are not in the minority.

    I've seen this three times now, and I can't like it. I can love Jimmy Stewart in it, but I can't like the movie. And for many of the reasons you've outlined here -- it's so pleased with itself for being so immoral.

    However. Have you seen "High Society," the '50s musical remake? Somehow, it's better. You've got Bing Crosby instead of Cary Grant (step up), Frank Sinatra instead of Jimmy Stewart (step down), and Grace Kelly instead of Katherine Hepburn (leap up), and everyone is just... nicer and kinder and sweeter than in TPS, and I like it so much I own it. The "did they or didn't they?" question still occurs, but both Kelly and Sinatra seem so utterly appalled at the thought they might have drunkenly wound up in bed together that it's all So Much Better.

    1. I just keep wishing this movie was so much more than it was. It had such potential and instead took a nose dive down paths I wish it hadn't gone.

      I have seen High Society, but it's been at least a decade. Since you say it's better, though, I may give it a chance again. I do love Crosby and Sinatra, although Sinatra could never compare to Jimmy Stewart, and Grace Kelly is, well, Grace Kelly. Lovely as a fresh, new morning in spring.

  4. Interesting review!
    Most people are crazy about this movie but it's always nice to hear different opinions.
    I've only watched the musical version (High Society) and that I liked, but I guess I have to watch the movie and judge for myself.

    1. I really do need to watch High Society again. I only saw it once, years and years ago and remember almost nothing about it. But I do love Crosby so that might help, although I also love Cary Grant and that didn't help matters any. I wonder if the storyline is any different.


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