Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day 112: The Philadelphia Story

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #250
Year: 1940
Director: George Cukor
Starring: James Stewart and Cary Grant

In the NFL Draft, the dubious title of "Mr. Irrelevant" is bestowed upon the player taken with the last pick in the last round. Applying that parlance to this project, The Philadelphia Story is the Mr. Irrelevant of the IMDb Top 250. It has since risen to #242, but when I began this blog, it was stuck in 250th place – just barely on the list, and awaiting the release of a popular, well-made movie to knock it off. With that in mind, The Philadelphia Story does feel a bit like a 250th best movie. It has the hallmarks of a classic 1940s film – a great script and a better cast, namely – but its resonance as a great film today is questionable. One could even say that in the seventy years since its release it has become, erm, irrelevant.

During the era in which this film was made, people went to the movies primarily to see movie stars. The Philadelphia Story brought them. Katharine Hepburn had yet to establish herself as the great actress that she is generally agreed upon as being today, but James Stewart and Cary Grant were two of the most popular leading men in Hollywood, and the chance to see them compete over a beautiful lady's love on screen is just the kind of thing that 1940 audiences (and modern AFI types) went crazy for. And Hollywood knew that if the shoe fits, you must wear it – big-name casts like these brought their A-game to every production and earned every letter of their names that would appear on the marquee. Grant and Stewart are both phenomenal in this, and even though Katharine Hepburn generally annoys the living piss out of me, she's definitely tolerable when surrounded by such likable actors.

The Philadelphia Story is also one of those oh-so-charming screen adaptations of plays that were written the year before that everyone in early Hollywood loved making so much. And like most of those films, one can understand how they might be better on a stage. In movie form, this honestly just feels like something that Turner Classic Movies runs at 3 AM on a weeknight and that some white guy in a smoking jacket and ascot would praise as "a psychologically harrowing rumination on lost love" on an AFI special. Aside from James Stewart and Cary Grant being positively charming every time they appear on screen (in anything), The Philadelphia Story could slip off the IMDb Top 250 anytime and my heart wouldn't be broken.

The Good: I would buy an album of James Stewart movie monologues. That voice! His performance and Cary Grant's were both fantastic.

The Bad: I didn't care about any character, least of all Katharine Hepburn's, who divorces one man, gets engaged to another, kisses a third, and tries to look noble in the last five minutes by doing the "right thing" for all of them. At least Scarlett O'Hara was nice to look at.

The Skinny: Alas, it's already irrelevant, but not nearly irrelevant enough for my tastes. Get it off the list, please.


  1. Haven't seen this one, but I don't really like James Stewart. I think he overexagerates quite often. So if that was the best thing in the movie, I'll just hope this slips off the top.

    P.S. Mulholland Dr. is #250 now and most likely will drop off the list, which after 2nd viewing caught my attention better and actually has to be on the top.
    P.S.S. I never understood why Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut is rated so low either. It is a great mystery and real close to Kubrick's best masterpieces.

  2. Man, I'll be pretty sad if Mulholland Dr. slips off. Especially since when it came out it apparently shot up to #12!

    Eyes Wide Shut not being on there does surprise me a little bit too, especially since voters are pretty big Kubrick fans, what with The Killing making the cut.