This Sunday I’m treating you to the latest instalment in my occasional series about films I love is the Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn comedy The Philadelphia Story.
Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia family, who is about to get married for the second time. Days before the wedding, her ex-husband turns up, with a tabloid reporter and photographer in tow. C K Dexter Haven (Grant) has been working for Spy magazine in South America since his marriage to Tracy broke up (she didn’t like his drinking, he drank because he didn’t like her criticisms of him) and is inveigled into taking Maccauley “Mike” Connor (James Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) the the wedding with a threat that if he doesn’t then a scandal about Tracy’s father will be published instead. Thus the scene is set for a love square as Tracy finds herself drawn to Mike and to her ex husband all while she’s preparing to marry George.
There’s more to it than that of course, but that’s the best potted plot summary I can come up with. It’s very funny and is managing to skirt the production code rules of the time by being a comedy of remarriage (see also Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday among others) and it’s full of snappy, witty dialogue as well as a few nice bits of physical comedy. If you’re a fan of movie musicals, you’ll recognise the plot as it was later turned into High Society (with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly) but it started as a stage play -written for Hepburn – and marked her comeback after being dubbed Box Office Poison after a string of flops. I didn’t know any of the Hepburn-y background when I first watched it on a DVD in my hall of residence at university. I just thought it was clever and funny and something a bit out of the normal run of the black and white movie classics I was renting (from LoveFilm!) at the time.
That said, it does fit perfectly into the types of romantic comedies – films and books – that I love. It’s got a smart heroine (as well as a smart hero), it’s got plenty of banter and the comedy doesn’t come from humiliation – see also When Harry Met Sally, Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Shall We Dance (the Fred and Ginger film) and authors like Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Philips, Julia Quinn and Lucy Parker (although those last two are more witty than comic).
Anyway, this is the sort of film you’re most likely to come across on TV on a Sunday afternoon – and if you do, you should definitely stop and watch it.