Philadelphia Story, The (1940)

The Philadelphia Story (1940), directed by George Cukor.

An ex-husband devises a cunning plan to torpedo his wife's wedding with an up-and-coming politician. As an accidental bonus, the bride has a needed character reformation: mistakenly believing (via alcohol-induced amnesia) that she had sex with another man the night before the wedding, she decides not to be so intolerant of other people's imperfections. Meaning the ex-husband looks pretty good again.

Exquisite dancing around sexual topics in a Code-compliant way. The stage play origins are apparent in the overwrought speechifying, but I'm willing to forgive it in this case for such a lively presentation. Until looking up some details I had not realized that the comedy of remarriage was a recognized film genre.

Great comic talent all around: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant looking short next to James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey as Stewart's acerbic standby girlfriend, waiting for him to grow up a bit.

The play was written for Hepburn, who backed it on the stage and controlled the film rights. She needed a hit film after a series of flops and this did it for her. Understandably she just owns the Tracy Lord role and all her strengths come into play.

As a romantic comedy of class-conflict, the uppers win this one handily, repelling the ex-coalminer groom completely and absorbing the radical writer into their set. I love how the society Lord family is so much at ease and unaffected in their home, putting on a rich-folk act only to ensnare hostile outsiders. The kid sister is a hoot.

Photographed by Joseph Ruttenberg. Franz Waxman score. Stewart delights us with his attempt at "Over the Rainbow".

My thumbnails are from the old single-disc edition. The DVDBeaver comparison shows the 2-disc special edition to be an upgrade.

Later: available on Blu-ray from Criterion.