Friday, November 1, 2013

1. The Philadelphia Story

1940; dir. George Cukor; starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart
My views: 36

Here it is: my number 1 most watched movie from 2003 to 2012.  You'll notice that I watched it 11 more times than Clue, which is number 2.  Honestly, it doesn't feel like I've seen it that many times.  I think I could probably watch this movie every day for the rest of my life without getting tired of it.  The Philadelphia Story is, without question, my favorite movie of all time.  It's funny because when I tell people that, I almost always get the response, "Oh, you mean the Tom Hanks movie about AIDS?"  No, that's Philadelphia, and when I say it's an old movie, I mean a lot older than 1993.  Occasionally I'll come across someone who's seen The Philadelphia Story, but often they say something like, "Yeah, it was okay, but I didn't like it that much."  And I smile and nod while a part of my soul dies.  But seriously, I understand why people, especially modern audiences, wouldn't fully appreciate this movie.  I'm sure I didn't when I first watched it.

As is the case with so many of the films on this blog, my acquaintance with this film began when my mom got it from the library.  All I remember from that first viewing is Jimmy Stewart saying, "Will you marry me?" and me responding with, "Okay."  Clearly this was before I had developed my undying love for Cary Grant.  Not that it mattered, anyway, since they were both interested in Katharine Hepburn.  That's right: Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn.  Just the presence of those three in the same movie was enough to ensure multiple viewings on my part, although I saw this early enough in my foray into Old Hollywood that I'm never sure if I love this movie because of its stars or if I love the stars because they're in this movie.  Either way, this movie gets full points for casting.  The three stars are all at their best.  Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar, Katharine Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar (I would be sad she didn't win if I wasn't so happy that Ginger Rogers won that year), and Cary Grant was completely overlooked as usual, which I think is especially unfair in this case because C.K. Dexter Haven is a very important, many-layered character who could easily ruin the whole story if played the wrong way.  Also, let's not forget the supporting cast, particularly Ruth Hussey and Virginia Weidler, without whom this movie would merely be one of my favorites, rather than the favorite.

The dialogue and character development are superb, which I think has a lot to do with the cast, and of course the expert direction of George Cukor.  I love the lines, but more than that I love the way they all say their lines.  This is exemplified in one of my favorite scenes, in which Katharine Hepburn and Virginia Weidler know that Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey, who think that their own identities are secret, are reporters and decide to mess with them.  Their exaggeratedly regal, almost serious tone of voice as they either say ridiculous things or seemingly unintentionally insult the others never fails to crack me up.  This scene also utilizes the most subtle form of physical comedy I've ever seen.  It took me several viewings to even notice it.  Usually I'm not a huge fan of physical comedy, but the way Katharine Hepburn pushes Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey together or starts to offer him a cigarette and takes the case away before he has time to grab one, all while talking a mile a minute, are so well done that throughout that scene I never know if I'm laughing more for the dialogue or the actions.

So it's a hilarious movie with a fabulous cast, but that's not nearly the whole story.  This movie deals with several of life's important issues: love, betrayal, prejudice, empathy, and perhaps most importantly, forgiveness.  The movie opens with pain and bitterness, and most of that goes away when the characters get over themselves and learn to repent and forgive each other in turn.  It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand this.  I have to admit that most of my early views of this movie were for the comedy and the stars.  But I realized as I got older how vitally important the message is.  Katharine Hepburn's character, Tracy, holds herself and everyone else to very high standards.  She knows how to behave, and very rarely messes up, so she dismisses other people when they make mistakes.  For the record, I think she was right to divorce Dexter, since he was definitely abusive, but I also think he deserves a second chance because he gave up drinking.  Anyway, Tracy learns throughout the course of the movie to have "some regard for human frailty."  In other words, people mess up, it's what makes them human, and you can either choose to hold that against them, or you can embrace it, realize that you mess up, too, and know when to give them another chance.  The Philadelphia Story exemplifies this simple truth so beautifully that it couldn't not be my favorite movie.

So there you have it: all 35 movies I watched more than 10 times from 2003 to 2012.  It's by no means an exhaustive list of my favorite movies, but it's a pretty decent sample.  So if you ever want to have a long, spirited conversation with me, all you have to do is bring up one of the movies on this blog, although I'd steer clear of Clue and The Philadelphia Story if you don't want it to go on for several days.

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