Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Romantic Comedy #5 - The Philadelphia Story (1941)

The more Katharine Hepburn movies I see, the more I realize that I adore her, but can't stand the way her persona was treated in plots. Hepburn - this wonderful, saucy, sophisticated lady who isn't going to take any of your crap - is commonly portrayed as being too controlling and not emotional enough. The plots of her movies very often reveals her contemporaries fear of the "new woman," and emerging (however slowly) gender equality. Katharine Hepburn movies, to me, highlight the very real sexism of the past, and the kind of response that stronger woman got at the time. Hepburn characters are always sexy and desirable, but always relentlessly criticized. I can't comprehend this.

Who in their right mind wouldn't want to be this woman? And yet it was the type she played.

Which brings me to The Philadelphia Story, a remarriage comedy starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and some guy who looks like Clark Gable but, disappointingly, isn't. I like the characters in it, I really do. I think they're interesting. Cary Grant's character is especially intriguing to me. For the whole movie he's painted as this hot-headed, irresponsible jerk, but what we see is a recovering alcoholic who is resigned to the turmoil around him, although he is somewhat bitter. It suggests some off-screen development that none of the other characters are recognizing or acknowledging.After we're told how crazy and aggressive he is, he spends the whole movie playing the only sane man. It's much more complex than I'm accustom to seeing in a 40's screwball comedy. I like the way he interacts with the other characters, too - his seen with a drunken Jimmy Stewart is one of the funniest things I've seen in a while.

What I don't get about The Philadelphia Story is this: Why doesn't she marry Jimmy Stewart? I mean, I do get it, really. The thing with Macaulay was fun and all, but the first marriage had real passion and emotion, and now that Dexter's cleaned up his act, all that's stopping them is Tracy's inability to accept human weakness like addiction and physical abuse, because apparently those are in the same category of reasonability. Tracy just needs to open up and get in touch with her emotions like a normal human woman. One contemporary discussion on this movie said that an actress playing Tracy "won't relate" to her problem of stoicism, but that the men will. Awesome.

Of course, I think this is a silly thing for the movie to be trying to tell us. Dexter and Tracy are obviously both decent people who bring out the worst in each other. They should not get remarried. I do get the divorce comedy, but I don't like it - I think it's a silly and unrealistic reaction to the changing social statuses of the day. She should have married Jimmy Stewart.

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