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Cameron H.

The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story  

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  1. 1. Does The Philadelphia Story belong on the AFI list?

    • Yes
      5
    • No
      4

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  • Poll closed on 08/30/19 at 07:00 AM

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Posted (edited)

Amy & Paul flirt with 1940's archetypal Katharine Hepburn romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story! They discover the origins of the industry trope of "box office poison," explore the strange social mores of the 40s, and learn that everyone on set may have been in love with Jimmy Stewart. Plus: Screenwriter Katie Silberman (Set It Off, Isn't It Romantic) explains why The Philadelphia Story is one of her top romantic comedies ever.

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Edited by DanEngler

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I’m about 20 minutes from the end of the episode so maybe they bring this up, but I think the reason Grant’s character doesn’t really have an arc is because his arc occurs off camera. During the course of the movie, we find out that one of the factors leading to their divorce was Haven’s drinking. He tells (I think Stewart) that he was in a rehab facility (sanitarium) for a few months to straighten himself out. He never drinks during the course of the movie. I feel like that’s what made Tracy drinking so significant. He sobered up and she loosened up. That way they were able to meet somewhere in the middle.

(Also, If you two are going to write notes to each other in Sharpie during the episode, you have to at least tell us what you wrote 😜)

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Still listening to the episode, but it crossed my mind for the re-cast, when someone said Idris Elba, it's a shame they didn't say, "Idris Elba, Jason Statham, and the Rock."

Statham's clearly the Jimmy Stewart role.  I think Elba could pull off the Hepburn role better than the Rock, and I could see the Rock managing the Cary Grant role.

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First I'll say, I haven't listened to the ep yet, so maybe it will convince me one way or another.

But, I totally loved this movie.

And I'm not sure at all if it should be on the AFI list.

It's really messing up my current rankings of the films. I'm really not sure anymore what this list is for. It took me 61 movies to have an existential breakdown.

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The trouble I have with this movie is that I feel like all of its merits are exactly what you would get out of it as a play, the dialogue and the plot and the acting. I'm not sure I see where it's doing anything special as a piece of cinema. I had similar issues with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , but even there I think Mike Nichols does more with the camera than George Cukor does here. For a list of "greatest movies," what exactly are we honoring with this one? I don't think it's bad or anything, but is it really one of the foremost examples of what The Movies can do?

On Amy's old podcast The Canon, they did a versus episode between The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday. His Girl Friday won.  I think that was the right choice; that movie takes similar themes and puts them into (IMO) a more cinematic package that doesn't just look like a filmed play. I think it works better as a treatment of those themes too, not pulling its punches as much with a cynical take on romance in 1930s/40s America.

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1 hour ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

For a list of "greatest movies," what exactly are we honoring with this one?

I would say it's probably the acting. But yea I'm not sure that's enough. 

Hepburn is incredible in this, shifting her character in subtle ways. She's totally different depending on who she is talking too. I found it quite impressive. But a film does need much more for "greatness"; it's not a list of best acting performances. 

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4 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I would say it's probably the acting. But yea I'm not sure that's enough. 

Hepburn is incredible in this, shifting her character in subtle ways. She's totally different depending on who she is talking too. I found it quite impressive. But a film does need much more for "greatness"; it's not a list of best acting performances. 

Right, and Jimmy Stewart is great as always. But he's also on the list many times, generally for performances I find better than this one. Not sure I need this movie on the list, enjoyable as it is.

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I voted yes, but as with Amy and Paul, it's a bit of a soft yes.  I have it in the category of films that are good enough that I'd be okay with them in the top 100, but that I could easily imagine finding something else I'd prefer to put on the list.  (I do still vastly prefer this over His Girl Friday, where Cary Grant's character is too unnecessarily cruel to bear, but I don't want to relitigate that very close Canon vote.)

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I haven't listened to the Bringing Up Baby episode, but I prefer that movie.  I'm not talking as a critic but just what I enjoy.  For whatever its minor issues, every time I run into that movie on TV, I wind up watching the whole thing.  

Philadelphia Story was one of my mom's favorite movies.  She took me to see it when it played on a big temporary screen at a modern art museum when I was young (shortly before videos of movies became widely available).  She was dying to show it to me.  So it's a special classic movie for me.  My mom loved Hepburn and Tracy.  I've always preferred her without him, though I tend to to watch the Desk Set around Christmas sometimes.

I adore Jimmy Stewart always. ❤️  He's almost enough to make this rise above Bringing Up Baby.

I'm such a sucker for old movies.   I can usually set aside dated scenes/moments.  But I can't get past Philadelphia Story's scenes where her father and Cary Grant pick at Hepburn about not being the right kind of woman -- i usually fast forward through those scenes to avoid ruining the movie.

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BTW, all this thinking about old romantic comedies made me watch My Man Godfrey again tonight.  For most of my life, if you caught that movie on TV it would have such a horrible soundtrack you could barely hear the dialogue.  Bless Amazon for having a decent version.  

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One thing they talked about in the podcast was how the role of alcohol in the movie.  During the movie, I noticed Hepburn was a nigh-teetotaller (or maybe I misunderstood her, and she just didn't never drank too much) and learned to embrace alcohol by the end; which made me wonder about society's relation with alcohol in the context of prohibition at the time.

Checking timelines:

The 18th Amendment (prohibition) was ratified January 16, 1919, and repealed December 5, 1933.  The Philadelphia Story was released in 1940.

Seven years is and isn't a very long time culturally.  Though I'm not familiar enough with the prohibition zeitgeist to know how it was viewed by the time it was repealed.

Anyhow, I let what little I have heard in terms of the many reasons why prohibition was adopted in the first place texture the Hepburn character's opinion of alcohol and other people's reaction to her not drinking.  (One of the reasons I've heard cited why one demographic wanted prohibition to happen was the women's movement wanted men to stop getting drunk so they wouldn't beat their wives.  Though, to my understanding and recollection, the propaganda for this played into racist stereotypes of poor, eastern Europeans at the time.  But backdrop that might be relevant for interpreting the beginning scene where Grant shoves her to the ground during his drinking days).

 

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Anyhow, I guess I'll weigh in as, this was my first time watching The Philadelphia Story, and I can't believe how "meh" I was on this movie.  Bringing up Baby at least made me laugh.    I didn't care for It Happened One Night nor the story at the core of City Lights - so I can't say if it's just, I do not connect to classic romantic comedies or if it's just the types that I've seen that are coming to mind (and are on this list).

 

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marriage, babeee!

This movie brought up again the tropes about marriage/remarriage, and Amy has mentioned several times over the course of a few episodes how funnily marriage is treated by being such as casual thing-- both the falling in and out of marriage. 

And it *IS* pretty funny, but I think we come at that conclusion too easily because of our modern sensibilities. Whether it's because of the Hayes Code or because of proper societial mores or because of religious sensiblities or other things or all of those things, "marriage" is really just a stand-in for sex.  Since you can't ever have sex outside of marriage, then obviously you just talk about people getting married, and it's like talking about the same thing. And yes you can ALSO have the "oh I forgot my watch upstairs" stand-in for sex, but that's just another KIND of sex, and the less scandalous kind, despite how quickly it can happen, is quote-en quote marriage kind. 

we all know that it's not ACTUALLY marriage we're talking about. I mean, yes, it IS an actual ceremony for them and they say I do and everything, but it's not meant to be taken for "realism" in the same way the movie-world is supposed to be real overall. We demand so much realism in movies that I think we mistake some things that are more deeply symbolic. In a related example, if you stop and think about it, no "real life" people would ever speak in witty quips and rapid delivery. Or wait to give important expository information until everyone's in the car. (Insert any number of related film tropes here.) Stop worrying about verisimilitude and realize how dirty of a movie it really is because they're constantly talking about how they are going to bone. LOL And that's probably why rom coms DON'T talk about marriage all the time these days. Because now we actually get to see the sex scenes. 

Lastly, I'd also like to think that all of it all is a holdover from ancient theatrical traditions. It always comes down to the two sides of the dramatic masks-- tragedy vs comedy. In the former, we need a fall to restore order to the chaos of the dramatic action; in the latter, we need marriage. In one, the sacrifice of life, its ending. The other, the promise of life, its continuation.  Or, you know. Sex scenes. 

Thank you for reading what turned into an essay. For the record, as a happily unmarried person, my credentials may not be as valid as others. :)

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Sometimes it bothers me that Paul and Amy constantly refer to the actors' names, and not the characters', when talking about the characters' actions and attitudes. I know, it's not just a Paul and Amy thing. It's natural for everyone to do it, and I tend to do it as well. But I always am a bit self conscious when I notice it in myself and try to avoid it. (As a film teacher, I caution my students against it and try to make sure they distinguish when they are referring to the actor and to the character.) It's more egregious when they switch to character names for those who are minor and/or are portrayed by "unknowns," often in the same sentence. I prefer to think of the film as something independent, and it helps to consider the characters paramount, and the actors as separate. 

I have enough personal quirks/peeves, so I don't mind owning one more, but I just wondered. Am I alone here? 

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4 hours ago, DannytheWall said:

Sometimes it bothers me that Paul and Amy constantly refer to the actors' names, and not the characters', when talking about the characters' actions and attitudes. I know, it's not just a Paul and Amy thing. It's natural for everyone to do it, and I tend to do it as well. But I always am a bit self conscious when I notice it in myself and try to avoid it. (As a film teacher, I caution my students against it and try to make sure they distinguish when they are referring to the actor and to the character.) It's more egregious when they switch to character names for those who are minor and/or are portrayed by "unknowns," often in the same sentence. I prefer to think of the film as something independent, and it helps to consider the characters paramount, and the actors as separate. 

I have enough personal quirks/peeves, so I don't mind owning one more, but I just wondered. Am I alone here? 

If this were a term paper, I would 100% agree, but seeing as the podcast is more of a casual - albeit researched - conversation, it doesn’t really bother me. Furthermore, they can’t be sure how much of their audience has actually seen the movie, so referring to the characters by the actors’ names rather than the characters’ name and can aid in the visualization of a any given scene. (i.e I don’t know who “C. K. Dexter Haven” is, but I do know Cary Grant.)

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2 hours ago, DannytheWall said:

I have enough personal quirks/peeves, so I don't mind owning one more, but I just wondered. Am I alone here? 

This doesn't bother me, as long as there isn't ambiguity over whether they're talking about an aspect of the actor or an aspect of the character, and so far in this podcast, there hasn't been that ambiguity.

The converse of this is a bigger pet peeve of mine, when people unironically refer to an actor solely by the name of a character that he/she has played.  (Example: "I'm looking forward to seeing Captain America in Knives Out.")

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It doesn't bother me technically (because if they were referring to character names I'd probably not remember who is who).

But I do agree that in this episode in particular, they maybe swung too much in interpreting the film as if it was about Katherine Hepburn or the actors' lives, and not about the characters. That's not my favorite type of criticism/analysis. Like, it's one thing to put the film in context that it was Hepburn's attempt at a comeback; it's another to say it's about that.

I don't think they cross that line too often, it's just this episode that seemed to be all the majority of what they were talking about.

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16 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

(i.e I don’t know who “C. K. Dexter Haven” is, but I do know Cary Grant.)

 😲 even after he yelled CK Dexter HAYYYYY-Ven all the time? LOL 
I guess that's just it. I would be convinced that the story didn't get told right/the movie "didn't do its job" right if we couldn't remember something as simple as characters' names. Or perhaps that actors are distracting from characters somehow. But, again, just a peeve, not a hill and nothing I should die upon. 

7 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

in this episode in particular, they maybe swung too much in interpreting the film as if it was about Katherine Hepburn or the actors' lives, and not about the characters.

See? Maybe that was it. It's perfectly valid to critique the movie through that context, but if that's all we really have to critique it and/or it distracts from other critique, then ... ? 

On the other hand, the extreme in the opposite direction is when a character becomes so name-able that it takes over the actor's name. Cue Norman Bates/Anthony Perkins. Or Skywalker/Hamil. 

13 hours ago, bleary said:

(Example: "I'm looking forward to seeing Captain America in Knives Out.")

Hey! At least they're using the proper superhero name! Another pet peeve? How we're all so first-name basis with our heroes. I prefer talking about Iron Man and not Tony Stark. But now I'm spreading my death upon too many tiny hills. 

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I already said why I didn't care that much for Philadelphia Story when Amy matched it against His Girl Friday at The Canon. The "meta" aspect of the character vs actress did nothing for me. It was just a lot of people insisting she needed to be brought down a peg.

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