George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story is a fascinating film, rewarding the viewer with each repeat viewing. The film is perhaps the quintessential remarriage comedy, the finest of a popular cycle of films produced in Hollywood during the 1930s and ‘40s that share certain formulaic narrative similarities. The Philadelphia Story contains some of the best acting performed by screen legends Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart (who won an Oscar for his performance). It reinvigorated Hepburn’s stalling career by turning a healthy profit and earning an Oscar nomination for the actress who had been recently labeled “box office poison” by the Independent Theatre Owners of America.
Tag: George Cukor
A lot can change in two years, something that Katharine Hepburn knew all too well.
In 1938, she starred in George Cukor’s HOLIDAY as a principled socialite rebelling against her wealthy family and their obnoxious credo, that “there’s no such thrill in the world as making money.” In fact, HOLIDAY capped off a string of financial disappointments for Hepburn that led the Independent Film Journal to call her “box office poison,” their term for a star whose rich studio contract was unjustified by her “negligible” public appeal. That same year, Hepburn would use those riches of hers to buy out her contract with RKO and leave Hollywood altogether. It wasn’t until 1940 that she returned, armed with the rights to THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and the conviction that nobody should star in it but herself. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY went on to become the one of the most popular films of 1940, reigniting Hepburn’s career and also confirming a proverb from within the film itself: “With the rich and mighty, always a little patience.”
1939 was the most momentous year in moviemaking. Absolutely astonishing in its high quality and high quantity of output. Off the top of my head, I think of GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ, STAGECOACH, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, GUNGA DIN – everlasting classics all. A quick dip into the Wiki pond tells me that no less than 145 movies were made that year – a staggering number – among them, DARK VICTORY, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, GOLDEN BOY and BABES IN ARMS.
The Philadelphia Story – 1940 – dir. George Cukor
There are few movie treasures as evergreen as The Philadelphia Story, few movie stars as everlasting as the incomparable Katharine Hepburn. Labeled “box office poison” by Hollywood after making a string of nascent hits followed by a string of stinking bombs, Hepburn fled to her native East Coast to lick her wounds and find solace on the stage, namely in Phillip Barry’s play, “The Philadelphia Story” which became a lucky theater penny for everyone involved, Great Kate most of all.
Hepburn had the savvy to buy full film rights to the vehicle, provided she play the lead. She saw the play as her ticket-to-ride back to Planet Stardom, a kingdom she was to rule over for the rest of her life.
Is there a film more famous than The Wizard of Oz? There are films with loftier reputations, yes: as impressive an achievement as it truly is, The Wizard of Oz is still written off as kids’ stuff on occasion. But what other film has embedded itself so firmly in our culture? It’s a reference that most everyone picks up and the one Old Hollywood classic that nearly everyone has seen (and, until recently, one of the few being broadcast on network television in primetime). It’s been remade and spun-off in all manner of ways, 0from a television version populated by the Muppets to the misbegotten disco epic The Wiz, to surprisingly bleak incarnations like the eighties semi-sequel Return to Oz and the Sci-Fi Channel’s recent Tin Man miniseries. It crops up even in unexpected places: as a key reference point in anxiety-ridden fair like After Hours and Blue Velvet, and a throwaway line in Reservoir Dogs’ infamous torture scene (“How’s about a little fire, Scarecrow?”). Heck, Richard O’ Brien originally wanted The Rocky Horror Picture Show to imitate The Wizard of Oz’s iconic – and still breathtaking – leap from black-and-white to color. The film is also a merchandizing perennial, the inspiration for a booming cottage industry of hand-numbered music boxes and collector’s plates.