Thursday, 25 February 2016

George Cukor's "The Philadelphia Story" — Aiming for the Wrong Target

The rather wonderful artist Alison Jackson makes fake photographs and films of famous people for satirical effect, using a cast of lookalikes.  One film ‘showed’ ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie in a field with the Queen, being harassed by royal hunting dogs.  On the one hand it was mocking the urbane Blairs but as ever with Jackson the real target was the royal family.  The Queen seemed to enjoy the Blairs’ discomfort and made no effort to call off the dogs or to accommodate her guests’ lack of familiarity with country ways. 


There is a similar scene in The Philadelphia Story when hapless fiancé George Kittredge (John Howard) struggles to mount his horse in front of his intended, Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn).  Kittredge has recently acquired wealth and influence through trade, while Lord is a natural born Philadelphia socialite.  In this case though all the mockery is focused on stupid, vulgar Kittredge.  There’s never any serious doubt that Lord will end up reunited with her ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), an equally privileged Philadelphia man about town whose connections are extensive as his names.

Along the way she is tempted by everyman tabloid photographer Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) who falls for her despite his distrust of Lord’s lavish lifestyle.

Review continues below...

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Thanks to the attentions of her three suitors and various pieces of unsolicited advice (“You'll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you've learned to have some regard for human frailty,” and “You've got all the arrogance of your class, haven't you?” and “Oh it's all right, Tracy. We all go haywire at times and if we don't, maybe we ought to.” and “You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman except the one essential: an understanding heart. And without that you might just as well be made of bronze.”), Lord discovers some truths about herself.  There’s nothing like a 1940s film to teach women something about themselves.

Cary Grant plays a similar role to his part in His Girl Friday, also released in 1940, as the charming but flawed ex-husband determined to win back his wife from a new husband.  Grant, Hepburn and Stewart all turn in spirited performances and it’s good to see someone sticking up for old American Money.  Those poor devils need all the help they can get.

Personal Score: 4/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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