Saturday, July 17, 2010

Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story

Katharine Hepburn received her third Best Actress nomination for playing Tracy Samantha Lord, a rich society girl, who's preparing for her wedding with a boring loser, who cannot possibly replace her ex-husband, the charismatic C. K. Dexter Haven in the the George Cukor movie, the Philadelphia Story. Hepburn reached her superstar status with this movie, before this her movies always failed, but with The Philadelphia Story she finally pleased the audiences too. For her achievement she was honored with an Oscar nomination and in my opinion she was also very close to winning for she had already won the award of the New York Film Critics.

The Philadelphia Story is a classic comedy, which is in my opinion very entertaining and fun to watch. However, it's far from being as hysterical as The Awful Truth or My Man Godfrey or His Girl Friday (released in the same year). It's very solid entertainment with a solid directing, writing and acting performances. Cary Grant was said to be the star of the movie, despite the fact that he's barely on screen and he's rather supporting. James Stewart won Best Actor for his performance, which is very amusing (and I liked it much more this time), yet I don't feel that he deserved an Oscar for this.

The true star of the movie is however (as always when she's in something) Katharine Hepburn. I've already written about my feelings towards her in my review about her performance in Suddenly, Last Summer. The Philadelphia Story is quite different from that movie as this is the early Katharine Hepburn, however both share Hepburn's confidence, talent and shining self. The two roles cannot be more different, yet they have a lot in common.

Hepburn's Tracy Lord is one of those characters which you identify with the performer. This can be very dangerous in some of the cases, yet Hepburn was able to avoid all the traps of this character. We can feel that she gives herself and has fun with the role, yet it can be seen how much she worked on this character to make it perfect. She succeeded in a way, my only complaint could be the same I told about Doris Day. The comedy part is excellent and unforgettable, however the character often gets standard and there's no as much depth in it as I would have expected it.

Of course if you watch her for the first time, you're mostly amazed by the comedy of it, which is dead on. Her cheeky and bitchy one-liners are simply magnificently delivered by Katharine Hepburn and she managed to avoid overacting and exaggerating (which is a great problem of the performance of James Stewart). Hepburn is on the edge of it, yet she never gets over-the-top and unbelievable. She's very sober throughout the whole movie and she's not much (even in the drunk scenes).

Her chemistry with both Cary Grant and James Stewart is both brilliant. We cannot be sure until the very end if she goes with Stewart or Grant. Hepburn handles the romantic parts extremely well and yet never lets the movie become serious. Her extraordinary beauty shines through the thin material and lifts the whole movie. Without Katharine Hepburn, this movie would never have been a classic. She's the main reason why it's so entertaining and joyful.

And yet I have the problem of the entertaining surface but not much substance. Although I was having great fun, I did not get a lot out of her performance until a certain point. Probably my favorite scene involving her is the one where she says "I don't want to be worshiped. I want to be loved." All the motives of Tracy became clear to me with that scene. She's lonely, unloved and wants someone on whom she can rely with whom she can be happy forever. Naturally it's Cary Grant, but it's such an enjoyable to see her change from a sour and cheeky woman to a happy lady in love. She the ugly little duck becoming a beautiful swan.

Her comic delivery in the scene where she's told what to do, is simply hilarious. And although I'm not a huge fan of the so-called "screen-bitchery", she's so enjoyably bitchy in the first scenes with James Stewart and Ruth Hussey. Her comedy timing is probably the best in those scenes. I must also mention that although she had already played this part on Broadway, she never became theatrical in The Philadelphia Story, she perfectly portrayed this character on the screen too.

So to sum up, this is a very nice and entertaining performance, which may not be that deep, however it succeeds in pleasing the audience and most of all, in being funny and amusing. It's probably not the best performance of Kate Hepburn, but not her worst either. Great fun and nice entertainment.

Comments anyone?


Louis Morgan said...

Well that probably secures Fontaine's win. She was good, but I did not really care much for the movie.

joe burns said...

I thought this would be higher. I guess I was wrong with her being your pick. Anyway, I think that Rogers and Scott could surprise, but it will most likely go to Fontaine.