The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The problem with a romantic movie that stars Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant, The Flower mused, is that you don’t know who’s going to get the girl! And you know that one of them isn’t going to get the girl! Practically strains credulity! That said, The Philadelphia Story was and is one of the greatest romantic-comedies of all time.

So many men!

Ya gotta love the old time stills.

The story is that Tracy, an upper crust divorcee (Katharine Hepburn) is going to re-marry a working class success story (John Howard), but her ex (Cary Grant) is blackmailed into crashing the wedding with a couple of Spy Magazine hacks (Stewart and Ruth Hussey). Stewart’s a sensitive author who writes magazine stuff for the money, and Hussey is the girl who longs for him to realize she’s the girl for him, and while both are against intruding on private occasions where they are unwanted (can you imagine?), the slimy editor-in-chief (Henry Daniell) has them over a barrel.

Of course, Cary Grant doesn’t think that John Howard’s good enough for Hepburn, or that he’s good enough for Hepburn, or that anyone is good enough for Hepburn, and the real bump-in-the-road, the real hitch-in-the-git-a-long, the real monkey-in-the-wrench, is that Hepburn (her character at her worst) also doesn’t believe anyone is good enough for her. In fact, for a movie about a strong, independent woman whose abusive ex (Grant pushes her down in the first scene, added by either director Cukor or producer Mankiewicz) semi-reluctantly crashes her wedding, the character flaws fall almost entirely on Hepburn’s shoulders.

I say again: Can you imagine?

Though Cary is ready to fight.

At this point in the movie, it looks like Jimmy may walk way with the prize.

This reaches its peak when her father blames her for his infidelities! Her coldness, her demanding perfectionism, etc. And she takes it to heart!

It’s a tremendous story, and in thinking about it, I realize why: It has a point-of-view, but it doesn’t tell you what to think. The characters are flawed to the last one (except perhaps Virginia Weidler, who plays the sharp-eyed younger sister) in a variety of ways, but they’re also relatable and likable. One of the subplots has Jimmy Stewart falling for Hepburn, and at one point, it seems positively cruel to Hussey. But you just kind of get the idea that they’ll all live happily ever after (or at least reasonably so), even the unimaginative George, having been spared the misery of being married to an unhappy Tracy.


Who let the press in?

If you are of a certain age (say 40-60), you’re likely most familiar with Hepburn from her later roles, when she was—not bad, certainly, but not the spectacular creature she was in the ’30s and ’40s. But here she is fairly irresistible, and the audience gets the idea that, as a prized mate, she’s high up on the food chain. But there’s only misery down that path of thinking. And there are no shortage of men around who are willing to make her miserable, because they also think of her that way.

As with many of the great films of the day, modern audiences may have trouble relating to it. But the acting is top notch, especially Weidler and Hussey, who have the best lines. The music by Franz Waxman is spot on. There isn’t a wasted moment in Charles Ogden Stewart’s screenplay, and a lot of the clichés you’d sort of expect from an old romantic-comedy are neatly short-circuited by clever antics or twists.

Obviously. Obviously! You should see this.

Different types of men but they could relate.

Man to Man

Early Man

Aardman movies do not do well here in the USA, as I’ve noted on previous titles. Each film makes less than the last, with Chicken Run actually being 20th highest grossing film here with $106M, Were-Rabbit making $56M, Pirates making $31M, Shaun The Sheep making $19M, and this movie looking like it will just break $10M. (Update: Looks stuck at around $8.25M.) I guess, given that Chicken Run is the highest grossing stop-motion film of all time (adjusting for inflation might put Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas ahead of it), we could say that people don’t like stop-motion animation films very much. And perhaps, sadly, less and less.

That said, it’s not hard to see why Early Man won’t be successful here. It’s not that it isn’t funny. It is. And cute and charming in that Aardman way. It’s that it’s about soccer, and chock-full of inside English soccer jokes courtesy of Rob Brydon, as both commentators. I got a few of ’em. Neither The Barbarienne nor The Flower got them, of course, but they liked the movie anyway.

Rabbits with bugles?

I’m sure this is a metaphor for something…

The premise is cute and charming in the Aardman fashion: A stone-age tribe is kicked out of their valley paradise by some bronze-age bullies who wish to mine it. Our hero, Dug (Eddie Redmayne), through a series of wacky mishaps, ends up challenging the Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) to an inter-tribal soccer game in order to get it back. Dug’s meek stone-age tribe is run by the very meek Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) whom Dug completely failed to convince giving up rabbit-hunting for mammoth-hunting, but help comes in the form of a super-competent Bronze Age girl soccer player (Maise Williams) who teaches them how to play the game.

It’s absurd, of course, but it’s all in the service of gentleness. For example, Bobnar points out that the tribe has its hands full catching rabbits, so how could they even think of mammoths! But then, throughout the movie, the rabbit (rabbits?) they do encounter all get the upper hand on them. It’s a nice running gag, and the little clever touches more-or-less allow you to gloss over the extremely predictable mindset of the movie.

If it it had been, I'm sure it would've been cute.

I don’t think this is actually in the movie.

One can (and does), for example, get tired of “technology bad”, “girls are the best athletes”, “anachronistic diversity” as tropes to be trotted out. But Aardman movies tend to be slapstick farces—the best parts being the non-verbal parts, even when the movie, like Shaun The Sheep isn’t completely non-verbal—and they are very good at that, and everything around that is relatively unimportant trivia.

The Barb fell asleep briefly. She still enthused. As she does. The Flower liked it, and agreed that there were some wonderfully done visual aspects, but she has less than no affinity for soccer, and found the CGI parts very jarring. As an enthusiastic booster of all Aardman’s previous films, I have to say, I’m not all that big a booster of this one. It would not be my “go to” recommendation.

It is cute, though.

In case you didn't know.

And yet the Bronze Age had many advantages over the Stone Age.