best films: #12: THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)
Arguably (or as far as this blog is concerned, inarguably) the greatest cast ever assembled, I often wonder how difficult it would be to put a cast this high-profile together these days without breaking the bank. Boasting three of the greatest film stars of all time, The Philadelphia Story is an impeccable comedy of sophistication. Spoiled rich girl Tracy Lords (Katharine Hepburn) is readying her impending nuptials to stoic George (John Howard) when a society reporter (James Stewart) and his deadpan photographer (Ruth Hussey) are there to cover the event. Oh, and Tracy’s ex (Cary Grant) shows up to spice things up. All in all, it’s a stellar performance by the cast (an assured SAG best ensemble victory had it existed in 1940), and it should be noted two particularly delightful cogs in that cast are the wonderful Hussey and child star Virginia Weidler as Tracy’s rambunctious little sister Dinah. Now as for the leads – Hepburn is pretty divine as the waspy leading lady, swooping from scene to scene with such flair and padded-on arrogance, she struts like a peacock for the duration (a hilarious peacock, of course). Grant is operating successfully as the straight man in this instance to Hepburn and Stewart’s goofier characters, but he’s still a joy to watch in his smug, debonair typicality. Finally, the Oscar winner and probable stand-out of the film Stewart makes Macaulay Connor, the poor schlub that falls for the wily tricks of Tracy Lords, a human and well-rounded character. (And there was that genius drunken scene; who knew you could look to James Stewart for a how-to on how to play drunk?) Now, the actors aren’t the only ones to thank for the film’s success – typically stellar direction from George Cukor is evident in each and every scene, and Cedric Gibbons and Edwin Willis should be commended for making Lords Manor an enviable and lush setting for the picture. And Donald Ogden Stewart, adapting from Philip Barry’s play, won a much-deserved Oscar for penning some of the wittiest repartee in film history.