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The Philadelphia Story (1940)

 
       
 

The Comedy of Remarriage...

 
 

Vow & Forever!!

   

 

  

 

Some of the best Hollywood films from the 30's and 40's sparkle particularly for their astute mixture of scintillating dialogue and zany situations that nonetheless resolve along old familiar lines, especially in matters of the heart.  Remarriage constitutes a particularly original and intriguing Hollywood sub-genre of the screwball comedy, of which The Philadelphia Story (1940), directed by George Cukor, is a shining gem, a sparkler one returns to - and that stands up to even a fourth or fifth viewing.  Katherine Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, a brash arrogant Main Line socialite once married to one of her own set, the charming recovering alcoholic Dexter Haven (Cary Grant).  As the story unfolds, Lord is about to marry the rather dull multimillionaire ad executive George Kittredge (John Howard).  Haven shows up on her doorstep on the eve of her wedding to convince her not to marry Kittredge and all hell breaks loose.  Haven also has competition in the form of Macaulay "Mike" Connor (James Stewart), an ambitious journalist there for the story --  Lord's second wedding. 

His Girl Friday (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), and Adam's Rib (1949) are all part of this delightful sub-genre.   There's nothing like repression to get creativity going (think of the writers who developed in Eastern Europe under communism!): the comedy of remarriage was a feint to avoid censorship and oppressive societal conditions -- in this case the infamous Hays Code which banned all references to illicit sex or adultery.  In these comedies the protagonists can tempt, flirt and come within a hair's breadth of marrying somebody else -- only to remarry each other! 

Cukor's close-up of Lord's face on the eve of her wedding is pure cinematic genius, for one reads not only the fear born of the possibility that Haven will ruin things for her, but the recognition as well that he is the man she is meant to be with -- it's a visceral, gut-wrenching emotion.  The Philadelphia Story is also a charming comedy of mores, in which Cukor pokes fun at the upper classes, while emphasizing their irresistible charm.  As Lord sits doing the crossword puzzle on the eve of her second marriage, her mother helps her with the spelling of the word omelet: "O - m - m - e - l - e - t," to which Lord answers: "I thought there was another 'l'."   Ommelletts anyone?

 

 

See: The Philadelphia Story  

Read:  Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, Stanley Cavell 

 

 

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