Monday 6 November 2017

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY - Review by Greg Klymkiw - Dazzling Cukor Dazzling Criterion

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Starring: Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, John Howard
Ply. Philip Barry
Scr. Donald Ogden Stewart
Dir. George Cukor

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are three significant men in the romantic life of socialite Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn). Born into wealth and privilege, she's dumped the irascible rich boy/playboy C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) and has rushed into the complacency of marrying George Kittredge (John Howard), the dweeb-ish self-made millionaire.

But, there is a dark horse for her affections charging across the horizon of romance.

Tracy, however, is a force to be reckoned with - perhaps one of the most dazzling, significant female characters in the entire history of Hollywood romantic screwball comedies. Each of these men adore and appreciate her, but for very different reasons. It's these reasons, or rather, declarations, that brilliantly say as much about the individual male characters, as they do about Tracy herself.

Tracy is a walking, talking, living, breathing contradiction. In that sense, she's a full-blooded human being - one we could all do well aspiring to.

Perhaps the most interesting observation comes from Macauley "Mike" Connor (James Stewart), the reporter charged with Tracy's upcoming high society wedding. He's as full of contradiction about Tracy as Tracy is herself when he says (during one of the most romantic/funny scenes in movie history):
"You're wonderful. There's a magnificence in you, Tracy... a magnificence that comes out of your eyes, in your voice, in the way you stand there, in the way you walk. You're lit from within, Tracy. You've got fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts... No, you're made out of flesh and blood. That's the blank, unholy surprise of it. You're the golden girl, Tracy. Full of life and warmth and delight."
Ah, but the man she is about to marry, sees no real mystery. He declares:

"You're like some marvelous, distant, well, queen, I guess. You're so cool and fine and always so much your own. There's a kind of beautiful purity about you, Tracy, like, like a statue."

A statue? Uh, she's really going to marry this clown? He likens her to an inanimate object - albeit an objet d'art, but an object nonetheless. Worse yet, Kittredge adds that it's these inanimate qualities that "... I first worshipped you for from afar".

Tracy's having none of it:

"I don't want to be worshipped," she declares. "I want to be loved."

It's the philandering scoundrel C.K. Dexter Haven who seems to nail Tracy to the cross of self-discovery when he charges:
"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."
Dexter's quips, as rendered so cuttingly by the epitome of romantic male leads, Cary Grant, cut especially deep. This one in particular gets to the core of Tracy's journey throughout the film, an odyssey in which she learns that class, in all the meanings of the word, should intimately be all about examining and accepting the frailties of all humanity (including one's own).

In so doing, love is indeed the ultimate goal, but that's the genius of this film. We're not just talking about romantic love, but love and acceptance in all its forms. Directed within an inch of its life by the peerless George Cukor and gorgeously adapted by Donald Ogden Stewart from Philip Barry's hit play, The Philadelphia Story has all the nuttiness, romance and machine-gun-fire dialogue one would want from the genre. However, it goes that extra distance. It has heart, soul and the kind of intelligence that makes it universal.

The picture might have been made in 1940, but it speaks to all ages for all time.

I guess that's why they call 'em masterpieces.


The Philadelphia Story is available on a gorgeous Criterion Collection Blu-Ray that includes a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, an audio commentary from 2005 featuring film scholar Jeanine Basinger, In Search of Tracy Lord, a new documentary about the origin of the character and her social milieu, a new piece about actor Katharine Hepburn’s role in the development of the film, two full episodes of The Dick Cavett Show from 1973, featuring rare interviews with Hepburn, plus an excerpt of a 1978 interview from that show with director George Cukor, the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film from 1943, featuring an introduction by filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, a restoration demonstration, the trailer and an essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme.