The Philadelphia Story: Review
With Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, The Philadelphia Story has the best of everything to offer the classic movie fan: a stellar cast, a romantic comedy storyline to last the ages, and the talents of one of the all time finest directors of the genre, George Cukor. Immensely popular with fans and critics alike, its no wonder the film single-handedly revived Hepburn’s floundering career and gave Stewart his one and only Oscar.
Hepburn had starred in the original stage play, and due to a generous gift from her then boyfriend, Howard Hughes she became owner of the film rights. The gesture was made in order to ensure her control over the production and thereby her return to the screen. Hepburn had experienced a departure from movies in the late 1930s due to a run of box office disappointments. For a while no one would hire her, but when it came to cast the film she controlled the casting process. Pretty smart.
Originally, Hepburn wanted Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy as her costars, but the actors had yet to meet and scheduling conflicts enabled Grant and Stewart to fill in respectively. And thank goodness! There’s no doubt the film would still have been good, but there’s just something enormously magical about the cast as it is. Grant and Hepburn had previously worked together three times but never had there been so much chemistry between them (sorry, but Bringing Up Baby is embarrassingly overrated). And Stewart and Hepburn in their one and only pairing bring so much heat to the post party scene it boggles the mind they were never costars again. It’s really difficult to imagine anything sexier than the kiss Stewart manages to steal from Hepburn except maybe Stewart in a bathrobe carrying Hepburn in his arms as he stares down her irate fiancé. This is smoldering stuff!
Additionally, Stewart and Grant have such an appealing camaraderie as they find themselves positioning for the same woman, particularly when they have their little tête-à-tête over Hepburn and what she really means to each of them. Grant quietly listens as the drunken Stewart rants and raves with moments of brilliant clarity mixed in with stutters and slurs. Supposedly, Cukor had the two actors improvise the entire scene in one take. With such tangible magnetism it’s a wonder why they too were never in another picture together. Nor did either man ever work with Cukor again. Apparently, everyone just got too big for each other, or too expensive by producers’ standards to have in the same film. Either way it seems a great loss and tremendous disservice to the fans.
The machinations of the Golden Age of Hollywood often elude me, but more often than not they overwhelm and impress me. For, as many times as there have been train wrecks of films that make you wonder what the hell they were thinking, there have been the miraculous films that make you stand back in awe. The Philadelphia Story is a delightful romantic comedy that fits this description marvelously.