Monday, November 15, 2010

Links: The Philadelphia Story

The raves for The Philadelphia Story began right away, with Variety writing in 1940:

". . . a picture every suburban mamma and poppa must see--after Junior and little Elsie Dinsmore are tucked away. Producer Joe Mankiewicz has tossed in the works to turn out as sophisticated a picture as Mr. and Mrs. Know-what-it's-all-about are likely to see.

The smarties are going to relish "Philadelphia Story" a lot more than the two-bit trade; they're going to get a boot out of catching on to such subtleties as photog Ruth Hussey's crack to reporter Jimmy Stewart after he's been neatly put in his place by Cary Grant: "Here's a handkerchief. There's spit in your eye and it shows." A number of such are, no doubt, going to pass 'em by.

It's Katharine Hepburn's picture just as it was her show, but with as fetching a lineup of thesp talent as is to be found, she's got to fight every clever line of dialog all of the way to hold her lead. . . .

For Miss Hepburn this is something of a screen comeback. Whether it means she has reestablished herself in pictures is something that can't be said from this viewing for she doesn't play in "The Philadelphia Story"; she is "The Philadelphia Story." The perfect conception of all flighty but characterful Main Line socialite gals rolled into one, the story without her is almost inconceivable. Just the right amount of beauty, just the right amount of disarray in wearing clothes, just the right amount of culture in her voice - it's no one but Hepburn."

One month later, Bosley Crowther agreed in the New York Times:

"All those folks who wrote Santa Claus asking him to send them a sleek new custom-built comedy with fast lines and the very finest in Hollywood fittings got their wish just one day late with the opening of "The Philadelphia Story" yesterday at the Music Hall. For this present, which really comes via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, has just about everything that a blue-chip comedy should have—a witty, romantic script derived by Donald Ogden Stewart out of Philip Barry's successful play; the flavor of high-society elegance, in which the patrons invariably luxuriate, and a splendid cast of performers headed by Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant. If it doesn't play out this year and well along into next they should turn the Music Hall into a shooting gallery."

Reelclassics has a nice article by Ian Irvine from the Sunday telegraph in 1995 on the occasion of the death of the society lady who inspired Hepburn's character in The Philadelphia Story.  It covers the background of the film, focussing especially on the unique world that was Philadelphia Main Line society, Hepburn's comeback and its further life as a Grace Kelly/Frank Sintra/Bing Crosby musical by Cole Porter.

""Everybody had so much money - there were so few taxes. People gave grand dinner parties and dances: women wore wonderful dresses and men came in fine evening clothes," she remembered. "It's a way of life that's completely gone now. It was really an imitation of Edwardian days in England. It was all quite artificial.

"When Phil told me he had written this new play, and that Katharine Hepburn would play me, I thought it was great fun, but I really didn't pay that much attention. I don't really think Tracy Lord was like me, except that she was very energetic and motivated." Barry took his idea for a comedy, based on the glamorous figure of Hope Scott, to Katharine Hepburn - who had made a great success of the society girl with brains and beauty in the film version of his play Holiday. His proposal came at just the right moment for Hepburn: her career as an actress both on Broadway and in Hollywood was at a turning point. Her films, including some which we now consider among her finest, Bringing Up Baby and Holiday, were not commercial successes, and the studios considered Hepburn too independent and unconventional.

Shortly after Bringing Up Baby's release, Harry Brandt, president of the Independent Theatre Owners of America, published as an advertisement a list of stars who were "box-office poison"; Hepburn's name was at the top. She was in good company, with Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, but the publicity damaged Hepburn in the eyes of both studios and public, and after being offered a very B-movie project, she bought her way out of her contract with RKO, vowing to return only on her own terms."

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