Why is The Philadelphia Story so well known, while the equally unforgettable Holiday, from the same director, writers, and leads, suffers comparative neglect?
Both are romantic comedies — or comedic romances? — starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, directed by George Cukor, and written by Donald Ogden Stewart from Philip Barry stage plays. With their light comic touch, romantic complications, and class consciousness, both films superficially resemble screwball comedy, yet neither is quite screwball. The lack of bizarre situations and outlandish behavior, the nuanced, sympathetic characterizations, and the rich, resonant dialogue all set them apart from screwball classics like Bringing Up Baby or My Man Godfrey.
Where The Philadelphia Story is more satiric, Holiday is more compassionate and bittersweet. Its premise — working-class man falls in love with society heiress — may be familiar, but it eschews such plot mechanics as comic misunderstandings and elaborate deceptions; the story begins with Johnny Case (Grant) discovering the truth about the Seton family fortune, and it never looks back. Even when Johnny’s intended insists that he wear a borrowed tie to meet her father, and Daddy recognizes the tie, there’s no attempted cover-up — just a cheerful admission of the truth. (Even The Philadelphia Story had its "Uncle Willy" piffle.)
Dialogue and characterizations are note-perfect, and the story never missteps. This is one of the great ones.
The zaniest, most delightful, most romantic screwball comedy of them all, Bringing Up Baby features Katherine Hepburn at her effervescent best and Cary Grant in a marvelous performance combining stuffiness and injured dignity with his usual debonair charm.
Like the heroines of The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday, Katherine Hepburn plays a divorcée caught between flawed ex-husband Cary Grant and a respectable but somehow unsuitable fiancé (John Howard). But The Philadelphia Story goes beyond the formula by throwing in surprise contender Jimmy Stewart as a disgruntled novelist-reporter — an unexpected source of conflict and uncertainty that eliminates the need for Grant to resort to the underhanded tricks he needed to show up his rivals in Awful Truth and Girl Friday.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.