The Philadelphia Story (1940)




















It's quite interesting to see how "The Philadelphia Story" skips around rather adult subjects while still trying to pacify the censors. Remember that the previous year, special permission had to be obtained for Clark Gable to say "damn" in "Gone With the Wind". Since the film is regarded as one of the best movies ever made and that infamous line is heralded by the AFI as the greatest movie line ever, I guess that one swear word was worth it.
Then, just one year later, you have a crucial plot twist revolving around sexual escapades on a drunken night, jokes about wife beating, allusions to pornography, and a man cheating on his wife with a whore. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Yes, it sounds pretty bad when you line it up like that—it's really not that graphic. This doesn't even come close to holding a candle to anything Scorsese ever did...still, the innuendoes abound plentifully.
Tracy (Katherine Hepburn) and husband Dexter (Cary Grant) have decided to call it quits. That's putting it nicely. The movie opens with her throwing his stuff into a bag and pushing it down the stairs (she doesn't care, she loves it....ok, no more pop references). While there is no crashing a car into a bridge, she does smash his golf clubs and he pushes her to the ground rather gently. I think if this movie were to get a remake there would be a lot of fighting, swearing, and crying. No, everything is handled with tack and civility.
Cut to a few years later—Tracy is getting remarried to George (John Howard), a man who is highly regarded in all the right social circles.
It's the week before the wedding and Tracy is ready to start "living" again. Society wasn't that kind to her after her divorce, but there is a slight obsession about her, her family, and most definitely the wedding.
Tracy belongs to a very wealthy family. This paired with George's well-to-do stature and you have yourself almost the American equivalent to the royal wedding.
Then there's Macaulay Connor (James Stewart), a gossip columnist who wants to be a "real" writer. He storms into his boss's office and demands that he be treated better than the rest of the writers...mainly because of his hubris.
Connor is told of the wedding and instructed to get an inside story into "the Philadelphia story", as Connor's boss calls it. Connor and his photographer/kind-of-girlfriend Elizabeth (Ruth Hussey) will pose as friends of the family and they will be guests at the house of Tracy's family, aptly named the Lords.
This is all being orchestrated by Dexter, who tells the reporters that he wants to get back at his ex-wife for leaving him. His motive is not above suspicion.
So Connor and Elizabeth go to meet the Lords—Dexter shows up as well.
The viewer gets the idea that the Lords like Dexter and aren't too thrilled about George, but hey, they're not marrying him so chill out...right?
Now we enter a love square (three guys, one girl) and rapid-fire dialogue that gives way to funny one-liners.
"The Philadelphia Story" is interesting because the power of the movie is entirely with the women, at least for the first half of the movie. Elizabeth wears the pants in her and Connor's relationship, she drives him around and tells him where to meet her. Then there's Tracy who is incredibly strong in her self-will.
Near the end of the movie, the film does make the men the powerful figures and the women, just arm candy...but it was a nice try.
Alcoholism is a major character in the movie. The movie descends into drunken madness and there is rarely a scene that doesn't contain a glass of some spirit or another.
Family is interesting in this movie, it's not treated with respect. There is a perverted, drunken uncle who molests woman by pinching them. Then there's the father who cheated on the mother—when he's confronted about it, he claims that it's none of the women's business...that it's actually their fault. He convinces them of this point—to be honest, I likened the dad with Pat Robertson's comments about cheating husbands. In both cases, however, I disagree; but the movie plays on.
The movie's lust is just that...lust. This is not love, just attraction for the other person—love takes time, and the film is saying that in a round about fashion.
It's rather a dark outlook of love and marriage, one that seems out of place in a "romantic comedy".
Sexual euphemisms are the cornerstones on which the film is built.
Yes, it's kind of adult and that was surprising. But more than that, it was slightly offensive. You get the feeling that these situations only happen in the movies.
Also, for being a romantic comedy—it wasn't that romantic, nor comedic.









Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

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