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Year of Revisiting #4 – The Philadelphia Story

“Dost thou have a washroom? Thank thee.”

The Philadelphia Story shines in my memory as a sparkling cinematic success. And on this re-watch, it didn’t disappoint for being clever and funny. I admit to being a bit disappointed, but I guess not really surprised, by the casual domestic violence and sexism. For example, that Dexter (Cary Grant) may or may not have “socked” Tracy (Katharine Hepburn) is a repeated joke, which I must have laughed off like everyone else. The speech from Tracy’s father (John Halliday) blaming her for his own philandering is so absurd it sounds like something a MRA internet loser would come up with, but by the end a chastened Tracy would seem to accept the blame he’s assigning. *Sigh*

Yet, if you can hold your nose at that stuff, you’re in for a treat. This film features three of my favorite actors of yore — Hepburn, Grant, and James Stewart. (Stewart singing “Over the Rainbow” is itself worth the price of admission and rivals his crooning “Buffalo Gals” in It’s Wonderful Life.)   One of the smartest and wittiest movies I’ve ever seen, it is almost unbelievably droll and entertaining from the first moment. While Cary Grant gets off most of the one-liners, every character, down to Tracy’s little sister, has moments of hilarity.

Dexter still loves Tracy — we learn that since their divorce he’s given up drinking and generally tried to improve himself — though he’s hoping to knock her down from a goddess into a human. Hepburn’s “I don’t want to be worshipped. I want to be loved” is what stood out in my mind from years-ago viewing. I have no problem with love humbling the arrogant or breaking down the invincible. I’m glad that by the end K. Hep feels like a human and has found happiness. It’s just that you kind of need to be a goddess to deal with marriage to an alcoholic and an asshole father. If she’s become self-righteous and unforgiving, can you blame her?

The Philadelphia Story is a “comedy of remarriage” and I am sucker for second chance love stories in which the lovers have some kind of history but are now a little older and wiser. It’s truly laugh-out-loud funny and often brilliant. If it gender politics leave a little to be desired, I can forgive it

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