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Episode 131 - His Girl Friday vs. The Philadelphia Story (w/ Chris Klimek)


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Poll: Episode 131 - His Girl Friday vs. The Philadelphia Story (w/ Chris Klimek) (39 member(s) have cast votes)

Should "His Girl Friday" or "The Philadelphia Story" enter The Canon?

  1. His Girl Friday (21 votes [53.85%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 53.85%

  2. The Philadelphia Story (18 votes [46.15%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 46.15%

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#1 Dalton Maltz

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Posted 04 December 2017 - 12:08 AM

NPR film critic Chris Klimek joins Amy this week to pit two 1940 Cary Grant screwball classics against one another: “His Girl Friday” vs. “The Philadelphia Story.” They discuss the underlying cynicism of “His Girl Friday” and why it isn’t a true romance upon deeper inspection. Then they break down the themes of class and wealth in “The Philadelphia Story” as well as the way Katherine Hepburn plays with the audience perception of actress as goddess followed by an assessment of the portrayal of writers in both films.

#2 andyradicalpossumtackler

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Posted 04 December 2017 - 04:29 AM

100% "Philadelphia", no hesitation. I've always found "His Girl Friday" to be wildly unpleasant; that's not banter, it's just a depiction of a fully abusive relationship. I want Hildy to start running and get the hell out of town.

#3 LTL

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Posted 04 December 2017 - 06:40 AM

Why does this have to an either, or? ; surely both these classics are in the canon or what's the point of THE CANON

#4 A.V.

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Posted 04 December 2017 - 08:46 AM

I don't want to vote till I re-watch these, mostly to see how their politics may/may not seem too fusty to survive a retro look from here — though I'm not entirely convinced that's how we should do evaluation of previous works. But this is a very close versus epp, and I will cling to any way I can find to give one movie the edge over the other.

A word should be said about the scriptwriting choices, if artistry should have any merit in the canonization process, and if it helps anybody else make their choice.

HGF was purposely written to pack words/minute. Extra words were added to the front and end of the lines precisely so they would overlap and create a sense of frenzy.

In an interview with Peter Bogdonovich, Hawks explained, “I had noticed that when people talk, they talk over one another, especially people who talk fast or who are arguing or describing something. So we wrote the dialog in a way that made the beginnings and ends of sentences unnecessary.” *

TPS was adapted from its stage script via a recording of one of the performances, allowing the screenwriter to keep the big laughs and reactions. *

I've always thought both of these as singular techniques that just capital-letters Make their movies work. Sad that I have to pit one over the other.

OTOH, what if we give both these a tie to canon level, and throw Arsenic and Old Lace under the bus? No wait, I like that one too...

--

Also and btw, Traci Lords did choose her name from pop culture, but she did it via Jack Lord.





#5 nakedbrunch

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Posted 04 December 2017 - 12:55 PM

I really enjoy both of these movies, but The Philadelphia Story is arguably more canon-worthy. What fascinated me this watch was seeing the many ways each major character performs for the others. This is most obvious in the early part of the film (the reporters performing as family friends for the Lord family, the Lord family performing as eccentric upper class snobs for the reporters), but it seems to me to be a constant throughout. George Kittredge spends the whole film performing as what he believes to be a rich man, awkwardly wearing riding clothes and informing Tracy of his idea of the wealthy patriarch (taking care of her, placing her in an ivy tower, etc). Macaulay, particularly after being revealed as a writer and reporter, spends the remainder of the film acting out the 'cynical writer of the upper class' trope, almost like a parody of the Great Gatsby's Nick Carroway. And Katherine Hepburn is of course performing as "Katherine Hepburn."

This might be a subtler critique of the class divisions and prejudices more obvious elsewhere in the film. Wealth is performative: the privileges afforded by cash need to be played out between family members, other members of the class and members of the lower classes. As the attitude towards Kittredge shows, just having money doesn't mean much. Living in their ludicrously massive mansion, the Lord family must pretend to be something they don't really seem to be. It is in the rare moments towards the beginning of the film, when only Tracy, Dinah, Mrs. Lord and Uncle Willie are together, that we see the humans underneath the class trappings.

This nuanced critique of class, couched in a rather funny film starring some of the most charismatic actors of the 1940s, is definitely worthy of a spot in the canon.
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#6 bleary

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Posted 04 December 2017 - 02:02 PM

If the question is what Cary Grant film is most Canon-worthy, the answer is unquestionably The Philadelphia Story. If the question is what my favorite Cary Grant comedy performance is, I might have to vote third-party for Arsenic and Old Lace.

While I appreciate His Girl Friday, I'm not actually much of a fan. Part of it could be, as Amy mentioned, that the murder subplot is so uninteresting. Take that away, and the rest of the movie seems to just consist of Cary Grant being a jerk. I don't find him charming enough in this to excuse his terrible behavior. (I don't particularly find him charming in The Philadelphia Story either, but he does win me over in Arsenic and Old Lace and in Bringing Up Baby.) And though I like Hildy as a character, I don't think Rosalind Russell's performance drew me in enough that I really cared what she did in the end, and I sort of felt bad that the movie presented this binary choice between Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy as her only options. (Speaking of Ralph Bellamy, my favorite line in the film hands-down was when Walter Burns referred to Bruce as looking like "that actor, Ralph Bellamy". I wish they would have talked about it in the podcast, because I don't really have a sense as to whether it was more common or less common back then to make meta references like that.)

But it seems to me like this is the main problem behind the "comedy of remarriage" subgenre, that you have to make the ex-husband unappealing enough that you see why she left him, yet charming enough that you still would for her to take him back, while simultaneously making the new suitor appealing enough that you see why she'd be interested, but have some sort of flaw large enough that you excuse him stepping aside or being tossed aside. Both His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story suffer from this, but I think The Philadelphia Story acquits itself slightly better. In His Girl Friday, I certainly see why Hildy left Walter, but I can't understand (a) why she would want him back, (b ) why she would want to marry Bruce, and (c ) why Bruce more or less just gives up. I can these things a little bit more clearly in The Philadelphia Story, though I suppose I still don't see why Tracy would want to marry Dexter, particularly when all of her best interactions in the film were with Mike.

As for why The Philadelphia Story is better -- does it really need to be said? Katherine Hepburn + James Stewart + Oscar winning script give The Philadelphia Story immediate advantages. And as mentioned in the episode, the bench is deep as well, with great performances out of Ruth Hussey and Virginia Weidler, among others. Whether it's the script or the performances, I care so much more about the characters in The Philadelphia Story than I do in His Girl Friday, and it's a movie I can watch over and over, whereas His Girl Friday is way more of a slog for me.

So without question, I'm going with Philadelphia Story.

#7 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 04 December 2017 - 02:22 PM

It's a close call, but I'm going with His Girl Friday. It's mostly because of the stylistic flair Hawks brings to the material: the overlapping dialogue, the fast cutting, the way the whole thing moves at breakneck speed. By comparison, Cukor's approach feels bland, especially by modern standards. I'd also argue that the Hawks movie is worth canonizing because of how its title has become a cinematic/storytelling trope in and of itself. I can't think of anything similar from The Philadelphia Story that has entered the cultural lexicon.

#8 Buffyfan1992

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Posted 04 December 2017 - 07:48 PM

I vote yes for His Girl Friday because I love the fast-paced banter and Hildy is so bad ass. Grant, you the film is sexist and problematic, but its one of my favorite movies of all time. I can find faults in His Girl Friday and still think its canon-worthy.

#9 vanveen13

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Posted 05 December 2017 - 06:46 AM

I really think this should have been a Holiday Vs. Philadelphia Story or HIs Girl Friday Vs. The Front Page. As we have to go with what we got, though, I picked Friday, because it's the funniest of the two movies. While I like Philadelphia I don't love it. I much prefer the Cukor, Phillip Barry, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn romantic comedy Holiday, where the Hepburn character is just so wonderful and unusual; plus that film shows playwright Barry's sophisticated wealthy progressivism with Grant as the man of the people and a distinct satirical disdain for wealthy phoniness, not to mention it combines romance with actual ideas.

I don't think our hosts have it right with their views of either these films, however. Again, the ideological correctness they go on so awkwardly about seems to be getting in way of what the movies are saying. Have we become so prissy we are now obliged to feel sorry for the Ralph Bellamy character in Friday?! ! He's a bourgoise boob who has nothing to offer Russell but a foursquare home, a picket fence, a passel of brats, church on Sundays and being bossed around by her mother-in-law--that is a life of pure chloroform conformity. So of course she winds up with Cary Grant, because she's as ambitious and hilariously awful as he is, and could never fit into the American Dream propagandized by journalists, no matter what she thinks she ought to want. In her interview with the murderer she basically feeds him a bunch of hooey about his being almost inadvertently brainwashed into killing his victim, something you know she doesn't really believe. She and Grant are obviously two bohemian peas in a pod. Also, to make a correction others have probably already made, Molly Malloy, or whatever her name was didn't die in that jump! It would have been cool if she had, an early form of black comedy.

As to Philadelphia, why does Mr. Klimek think that the movie should somehow be obliged to point out to the audience that it, the movie, disapproves of the father's outrageous rant that Hepburn is responsible for his infidelity? I can think of no more grotesque an idea than the movie indulging a lecture telling us he is wrong when we're adult enough to decide for ourselves. Also, the film's handling of class and especially gender is far more progressive than either of our hosts suggested. Even though the movie tells us technically that Hepburn and Stewart didn't actually sleep together we know movie code, that it's just being coy, and we read it as saying that really they did, and Hepburn isn't villified for this; in fact we like her better. We're all are human and make mistakes, the movie says, and it strikes me that the film comes out against slut shaming in favor of open minded fun. Grant and Hepburn love each for their folly, not in spite of it, and that's the movie's bid for real freshness. The man she nearly married instead is unnattractive not because he's a vulgar working man but from the liberal aristocratic point of view that he's nouveau riche, wants a fancy trophy wife to add to his quality lifestyle collection in order to up his stock in the sophisticated monied world. Grant's irrepressible irresponsibility is extremely appealing. He wants Hepburn to be a flesh and blood woman.

I think in this way the movies are sort of similar, written from a bohemian perspective of Us against the Squares, but I guess maybe that doesn't read for modern audiences since it's either seen as elitist or in terms of gender politics with all women from the past viewed as victims whether they're ruthless bad girls or soppy goodies. But movies of the thirties and early forties were far more skeptical and funny about human behavior than the modern sentimentalism of nomenclaturial social acceptance and the assumed efficacy of positive role model characters.

Edited by vanveen13, 05 December 2017 - 06:50 AM.


#10 caringtype1

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Posted 05 December 2017 - 11:06 AM

I'm going Philadelphia Story. I actually prefer both Bringing up Baby and Holiday to either of these films, but Philadelphia Story is pure magic. The combination of three of the greatest stars there ever were in Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart (not to mention Ruth Hussey!) is just impossible to resist. His Girl Friday has always been difficult to me to really get into, although I liked it more on this watch than I have previously and I love Roz Russell's performance. When comparing classic movies, I usually try to think of what film I could more easily convince other people my age to watch, and here that movie is definitely Philadelphia Story, and I'm planning on making my friends watch it with me again over Christmas. I do think it's kind of bizarre that Jimmy Stewart won his only Oscar for this movie. I mean, he's terrific, but it isn't even his best performance of 1940 (that would be The Shop Around the Corner).

#11 FictionIsntReal

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Posted 05 December 2017 - 11:46 AM

I found The Philadelphia Story only mildly amusing. His Girl Friday is the one I'd heard about for years, and it more than lived up to the hype. Like vanveen13, I read it as a story about awful people and the actual merits of the murderer are beside the point (none of the newspeople actually care, and the politicians are hardly better). Bellamy's character can be an entirely decent guy and that's precisely why Hildy doesn't belong with him (since choosing the job over marriage is precisely what caused her to divorce Walter). It isn't a movie about her falling back in love with her ex-husband as much as with the job, and the terrible people doing that job are right where they belong. I don't give The Philadelphia Story as much credit: it seems to side with the father and everyone else complaining about Tracy falling short of the womanly ideal. Imbrie behaves like someone who already knows she's definitely a supporting character because it's more convenient for the writers rather than because that makes sense as a real character. It seems like they couldn't bother fleshing out Kittredge either because the audience already knows she's not going to wind up with him.

#12 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 05 December 2017 - 03:34 PM

View PostFictionIsntReal, on 05 December 2017 - 11:46 AM, said:

His Girl Friday is the one I'd heard about for years, and it more than lived up to the hype. Like vanveen13, I read it as a story about awful people and the actual merits of the murderer are beside the point (none of the newspeople actually care, and the politicians are hardly better). Bellamy's character can be an entirely decent guy and that's precisely why Hildy doesn't belong with him (since choosing the job over marriage is precisely what caused her to divorce Walter). It isn't a movie about her falling back in love with her ex-husband as much as with the job, and the terrible people doing that job are right where they belong.


Agreed 100% with this. The point of the movie is that the Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell characters both love the fast-paced, hard-nosed life they have as newspaper reporters and that's why she decides to stay.

I suspect that if the movie were made today, Hildy would wind up with neither of the male leads, but the social mores and/or production code of the time forced this ending on us.

#13 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 12:37 AM

I really adore both of these films, and I wouldn't really categorize either as a love story. For a Grant/Hepburn romance, I would recommend BRINGING UP BABY or HOLIDAY. That's not to say that he's not without his charm in either of these films. While HIS GIRL FRIDAY isn't exactly about love between Grant and Russell, it is about professional respect. As a fan of THE FRONT PAGE, I think HIS GIRL FRIDAY is truly noteworthy for perhaps our first example of a gender-switching comedy. Surprisingly little changes between the two lead characters in the adaptation, with Russell's main asset being her skill as a reporter, a skill that may even outweigh Grant's own. Yes, there's some icky nods to ownership in this version, Grant mostly wants to keep Russell because he's worse off without her, and going through the whole ordeal ignites, if not love, definite lust. No, I don't believe their newly rekindled marriage is going to take, but they are going to have a fantastic weekend in a motel before they start bickering again. I love HIS GIRL FRIDAY because I do think that the characters, more than most romantic pairings of the day, are on an equal playing field. The dialogue is also just glorious, with some of the quickest exchanges in movie history. I marvel at it every time I see it. I also love the early meta nod to Grant telling Ralph Bellamy that he looks a little like that actor... Ralph Bellamy. I always love to see early examples of Hollywood flirting with inside jokes and playing with the format. On the same wonderful level as Groucho telling the audience they might want to head out into the lobby in HORSEFEATHERS.

I really do love THE PHILADELPHIA STORY too, but I think there's less complexity to it, and without the terrific ensemble cast, it's not as strong a piece. I recently rewatched the musical adaptation HIGH SOCIETY for the first time since I was a kid and I was so unbelievably bored by it. It's virtually an identical script with a few songs thrown in. And while Sinatra, Crosby, and Kelly are certainly charismatic in their own way, none of them are doing their best work. Cukor's THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is a fine film, but gets a major assist from the likes of Hepburn, Grant, Stewart, and Weidler. It's also a supposed love story but it's full of Tracy Lord strikes me as a character who really doesn't care to be in love, and is only marrying because it's something to do. The closest she comes to having a real spark is drunkenly with Stewart, but she comes to her senses by morning, realizing how silly it would be to marry a common reporter. When she ends up with Dexter, it's only because it's a convenient return to the status quo.

I don't want to pick these films apart too much, because I do love them both. Either could be admitted into The Canon and I'd be content. But I'm going to cast my vote for HIS GIRL FRIDAY. I think it's the stronger and funnier film of the two, even if it's by a narrow margin.

#14 MSUBear

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Posted 07 December 2017 - 08:00 AM

His Girl Friday, on the surface, seems to have less moving parts and on screen star power as PS. However, both films were introduced to me at a young age and His Girl Friday is the only one I rewatch nearly every year. Perfect chemistry and comedic timing, imperfect characters, and oddly dark subject matter make it more of a precursor to the comedies of today than any of its contemporaries.

#15 HoldenMartinson

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Posted 07 December 2017 - 10:52 PM

I'm pulling for another tie. That sounds like fun.

#16 rickyssofake

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Posted 08 December 2017 - 06:13 PM

I have to state my disagreement with Amy's claim that His Girl Friday is not romantic. Watching it this time around, one of the funniest moments for me was when Russell breaks down near the end, after realizing that Ralph Bellamy had finally been arrested again. Grant and Russell's characters have their own personal and twisted romantic language: their disregard for consequences in working to get what they want, whether it's a story or each other. It's definitely not healthy, but it works for them, and isn't there a hint of that in every relationship?

On the other hand, in comparison the ending wedding of The Philadelphia Story felt much more wedged in to me. I also couldn't help feeling that the script breaks the rule that you should show rather than tell: yes everyone around Hepburn goes on about how she considers herself a goddess, but do we ever actually see her acting as such? We're supposed to accept that she was so unfair to Grant, but I don't see any evidence (other than hearsay) that Hepburn is really as cold as everyone says. I do enjoy The Phildelphia Story, but I can't help wishing that it was about Ruth Hussey.

#17 MODOKbaby

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Posted 08 December 2017 - 08:04 PM

His Girl Friday all the way! Philadelphia Story is nice, but it's not even my second favorite Hepburn/Grant joint (I actually prefer Holiday, and Bringing Up Baby is the best.)

It's always a thrill to watch people who love what they do, and I think it's great how that obsessive dedication to journalistic craft is the entire crux of the Russell/Grant relationship -- they don't fall back in love so much as prove to be each other's only peers. The cunning, borderline-sociopathic dance that gets them there may not be the most typically romantic (or "healthy") courtship, but it makes them feel so much more full-blooded, actively fulfilled, and mutually understood than anyone in Philadelphia Story.

#18 daustin

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Posted 09 December 2017 - 05:29 AM

I like these about equally but I think His Girl Friday crackles a bit more.

#19 raz

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Posted 10 December 2017 - 08:08 AM

Voting at 17-17... Well I had to go with Philadelphia Story to break the tie.

I think Katherine Hepburn's performance was just fantastic, and I found myself laughing out loud more with Philadelphia Story than His Girl Friday.

#20 Ryanmccan

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Posted 10 December 2017 - 11:01 AM

Don't worry I've got your back. I don't usually vote unless it's really close and the choice is important to me. His Girl Friday is miles better than The Philadelphia Story. His Girl Friday feels alive and hilarious and charming and it's so influential to so many movies, whereas I think The Philadelphia Story is unfunny, not nearly as charming and kind of uncomfortable to watch.