director George Cukor
It’s kind of hard to imagine that Katharine Hepburn was once referred to as “box office poison” but following the poor performance of Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby (1938) (I know, what!!!??), she was. But Hollywood stories aren’t stories without just these types of twists and turns. Hepburn bought out her contract at RKO and headed to Broadway, where she starred in Donald Ogden Stewart’s The Philadelphia Story. She also managed to finagle the rights to the film and parlayed it into her comeback to the silver screen and return to commercial success. Box office antidote, I suppose.
Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and directed by George Cukor, 1940’s The Philadelphia Story bears its stage-based qualities rather significantly. While it has a lot of solid humor and some good scenes, it’s also very actorly and heavy on the speechifying monologues heightening dramatics that the Oscars was created to appreciate and glorify.
Hepburn plays socialite Tracy Lord, divorced from C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) and engaged to George Kitteredge (John Howard). Step in slop reporters Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart) and Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) hired to cover the wedding for Spy Magazine. You’ve got yourself a comedy of class and divorce (comedy or remarriage), an Oscar for Jimmy Stewart, and a film for the National Film Registry.
Oddly enough, I’d never seen it before, or at least, not all of it. I enjoyed it, but after having just watched Bringing Up Baby, which is a hysterical screwball comedy also featuring Grant and Hepburn, it was hard not to compare and contrast the two Actually, TCM was playing several Grant and Hepburn movies that night.) I’m much more a Bringing Up Baby man. But that is Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for you. And apparently the American public as well.