Its witty dialogue, romantic complications, and class-skewering satire are hallmarks of screwball comedy, but George Cukor’s classic The Philadelphia Story doesn’t turn on absurd situations, outlandish behavior, or unpredictable plot twists.
Instead, it’s a more mature and humanistic social satire, a comedy of manners skewering every kind of snobbery: not only the class-based snobbery of the rich against the poor — and the poor against the rich — but also the intellectual snobbery of the literate against the popular, and above all the moral snobbery of the self-righteous against the imperfect.
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.
Hepburn shines in the role she originated on Broadway, and Stewart won his only Oscar for his terrific performance.
Why is The Philadelphia Story so well known, while the equally unforgettable Holiday, from the same director, writers, and leads, suffers comparative neglect?
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.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.