FT Top 100 Films
76: The Philadelphia Story
I don’t know if we call this romantic or screwball comedy, and it doesn’t much matter, except that it does seem to have the best qualities of both, and more. It has the sophistication and shine and feeling of a good romantic comedy, and the fun and (sometimes) pace of a screwball comedy. It also has three of Hollywood’s greatest ever movie stars (Katherine Hepburn had been in the successful play, and chose Cary Grant and James Stewart as her co-stars), plus some strong support (as so often, the little sister role and the grumpy older relative are the best. Preston Sturges did these magnificently too – see e.g. Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek) – though as ever in these films, the intended never looks like a realistic contender (see also #97 Bringing Up Baby, plus His Girl Friday and countless others).
It has one of my favourite openings ever, as we watch Grant and Hepburn’s separation, the backstory of the movie: the moment when Grant feels like punching her, but settles for just pushing her in the face, is as fine a gem of wordless performance as cinema can offer since Buster Keaton’s heyday. It’s a preview of the polished brilliance of the film as a whole, packed with perfect and memorable scenes, and dominated by three stronger and more complex performances than some will have you believe these great stars ever gave (Stewart’s oscar for this was the only one either he or Grant won, shockingly). It’s a delight to watch throughout, occasionally making you cringe but mostly making you smile and laugh, one of the most eminently adorable films that’s ever been made.