Review: The Philadelphia Story

Snooty society gal Katharine Hepburn is about to marry stuffy John Howard (no, not the former Australian PM, nor the same named Aussie actor), but the wedding is to be crashed by unwanted reporters Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey who are chaperoned by suave Cary Grant, Hepburn’s ex, who intends to break the wedding up. Anyway, Stewart also appears to be falling for Hepburn and possibly vice versa, whilst Hussey clearly hangs on Stewart’s every word, too. The great, underrated Henry Daniell is the ruthless publisher Sidney Kidd, John Halliday is Hepburn’s unscrupulous father, Roland Young her amusingly lecherous uncle, Virginia Weidler her insufferably precocious kid sister, and Mary Nash her mother.

Frankly overrated, dated, and flabby 1940 George Cukor (“My Fair Lady”, “Gone With the Wind”- neither a favourite of mine) film is a classic to many, but didn’t do much for me, though the initial premise isn’t without promise. Hepburn is grating (if you normally find her insufferably mannered, you’ve been warned!), playing a thoroughly detestable character. Her performance is all artifice, and even if that is in-character, it’s a bloody annoying, self-absorbed character! Her bleating voice doesn’t often annoy me the way it does others, but it sure did here. An Oscar-winning Stewart has been better it has to be said. Some suggest his win was compensation for losing for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, and frankly I think he’s a bit miscast here. He certainly doesn’t have any chemistry with Hepburn. Oddly enough, the most irritating actor of the bunch, Cary Grant, gives the best performance of the three leads. He’s light, breezy, and fun (and believe me, I hate Cary Grant, usually). Along with able Hussey, and the wonderful Young (in the film’s only truly funny performance), he makes this slow-moving film at least tolerable. And what a waste of the talented Daniell, who steals his one scene effortlessly.

The screenplay is by an uncredited Waldo Salt (who did his best work from the 60s onwards, like “Midnight Cowboy”, “Coming Home”, and “Serpico”) and Donald Ogden Stewart (“A Woman’s Face”, “Marie Antoinette”), from the Philip Barry play. Maybe it worked in the 40s, but it barely tickles the funny bone in 2011, I’m afraid. In fact, it makes me wonder sometimes if people who make up these Best Films of All-Time lists have watched some of the films recently, because this has aged horribly.

Rating: C+


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