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
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!
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
Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, Stanley