Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The Philadelphia Story
Last week I was discussing romantic comedies with a co-worker, and--as always happens when romantic comedies are being discussed--we wondered why so many of them are so terrible.
I mean, when someone sits down to write a romantic comedy, the word comedy ought to be a clue. As in actually funny, instead of one contrived gimmick after another. You know what another key word is? Romantic. Chemistry, people! That's what we're looking for, not two leads who go together like flashbulbs on a goat. **cough cough Hugh Grant Sarah Jessica Parker cough**
But when a romantic comedy is done right...ah, then what a sparkly, joyous thing it is indeed. And hardly any romantic comedy does it more right than The Philadelphia Story.
I don't remember when I first saw it. I just remember falling head over heels for it, and I've been head over heels ever since. Katharine Hepburn is glorious as Tracy Lord, strong-willed society aristocrat and ex-wife of Cary Grant's C.K. Dexter Haven, whom she divorced because of his alcoholism. Tracy is preparing to head down the aisle again, this time with George Kittredge, a self-made man and budding politician.
Enter Sidney Kidd. Kidd is the publisher of Spy magazine, a tabloid that specializes in prying into celebrities' private lives. Kidd wants the inside scoop on the society wedding of the year, and he doesn't care how low he has to stoop to get it. He concocts a plan to sneak writer Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart) and photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (the drily hilarious Ruth Hussey) into Tracy's wedding as bogus "friends of the family." Mike doesn't want any part of it. He has no use for celebrities and even less for snobby rich folk. But his true calling--writing short stories--doesn't pay the rent, so rather than lose his job, he reluctantly goes along with Kidd's scheme.
In the hands of lesser screenwriters, this would turn into a stale sitcom of mistaken identities and breathless last-minute revelations. Instead, The Philadelphia Story is an unpredictable, riotous delight. Witty barbs fly like darts--and at times, they stab deep. The characters have lots to say about class, prejudice, passion, human frailty, and what it means to be truly loved. "The time to make up your mind about people," Tracy Lord insists, "is never."
Add to that the sizzle between Hepburn and all three of her leading men, Jimmy Stewart in a side-splitting drunk scene (he won an Oscar for this role), and Cary Grant as the discarded ex, all casual flippancy on the surface and desperate yearning underneath...oh, it doesn't get any better than this.
So if you're in the mood for a romantic comedy, but you just can't find one delicious enough to hook your finicky heart, do yourself a favor. Pop The Philadelphia Story into the DVD player. And then, when someone like me sighs and says, "Why can't they make them like they used to?" you'll sigh too, and say, "I don't know...but wouldn't it be wonderful if they did?"