Category Archives: 1940

The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor)

George Cukor must have cheated on his wife at every opportunity, given The Philadelphia Story‘s (and The Women before it) rewarding of unfaithful husbands. I watched Philadelphia Story on a lark–I’d never seen it, but had heard of it, and it came up this week. Holy shit–Cukor was gay! I just read it. Huh….

Umm. So, anyway, the movie’s okay. It has a few particularly good scenes, mostly between Cary Grant and James Stewart. Grant was, at this point in his career, at leading status and rarely ever had friends in films (that I’ve seen), only love interests. So seeing him have a friendship is nice. The scenes between Katharine Hepburn and Grant range greatly in quality, mostly because the film is a very strict adaptation of the play. You can see it being performed on stage while watching and that’s never good (Cukor’s other films that I’ve seen–The Women and Dinner at Eight–are both adaptations that suffer the same problem). He does have some interesting composition at times, Cukor does, however. He actually uses soft background on Cary Grant, something I’d never seen before.

The acting ranges too. Grant’s good once his character gets established, Stewart’s okay but miscast, and Hepburn… well, she doesn’t have much to work with. The characters are really thin, which is Stewart’s problem, and Hepburn forces something out of it, but can’t make the character consistent throughout (the script’s at fault for that too–the groundwork for the ending is laid in the last fifteen minutes). The best performance is from the kid sister, Virginia Weidler, who’s just having fun. Similarly, Roland Young is quite good. Ruth Hussey–as another infidelity forgiver–is given an impossible character and she doesn’t have the chops to do anything with it.

The Philadelphia Story is a “class” comedy, where members of the working class mix with the members of the upper class. I’ve never labeled a film or story that one before–though I’m familiar with other folks using the term–and this film is the first time it’s been appropriate… because the makers wanted the audience to label it as such. (I think there might be some homage to it in a scene of Caddyshack II, actually). It’s unintelligible and unbelievable at its best–though still fun thanks to Grant and his chemistry with his co-stars–and propaganda at its worst.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by Philip Barry; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Frank Sullivan; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Cary Grant (C.K. Dexter Haven), Katharine Hepburn (Tracy Lord), James Stewart (Macaulay Connor), Ruth Hussey (Elizabeth Imbrie), John Howard (George Kittredge), Roland Young (Uncle Willie), John Halliday (Seth Lord), Mary Nash (Margaret Lord), Virginia Weidler (Dinah Lord), Henry Daniell (Sidney Kidd), Lionel Pape (Edward) and Rex Evans (Thomas).


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Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

Well shit, I was wrong. I thought Foreign Correspondent was pre-Rebecca and I am incorrect.

I suppose the confusion has to do with the way Hitchcock made Correspondent. It’s very much in the style of his 1930s British films (I’m thinking primarily of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes), while Rebecca was not. Rebecca was about people, Correspondent is about events. Not that I have a problem with Hitchcock making movies about events (though Saboteur is something awful, as is The Birds). Correspondent is a damn good film. I’ve only seen it once before and the same thing happened today that happened six or seven years ago. I looked at the clock about forty minutes in and wondered how it could have gotten there. The first forty minutes of this film moves faster than any other I’ve seen. The rest moves too, but those first forty feel like eleven.

This film is a propaganda piece. But only sort of. It’s got some incredibly beautiful moments in it, moments I’m not used to in film, particularly not thrillers. In the midst of a plane crash, two characters are none-the-less affected by a death. It’s thirty seconds, probably less, but it really sets Correspondent apart. There’s also some wonderful character relationships in the film that the last hour takes the time to explore. Even the amusing scenes of a man and his assassin-to-be. The romance is exceptionally hurried, but there’s this scene on a boat that makes it all worth it. This film comes together in beautiful ways, works in beautiful ways.

It’s not a well-known Hitchcock. A quick Google search just revealed it to be “little known.” One of the reasons for the lack of notoriety is probably that Warner Bros. didn’t whore it on VHS like Universal did their Hitchcock titles. Another reason is probably Joel McCrea. Even though I saw The Most Dangerous Game at some point growing up, I had no idea who McCrea was until I started looking into film myself. This inquiry happened to coincide with AMC being great–long time ago–so I got a lot of McCrea in there. Foreign Correspondent popped up at some point during that period….

It’s not as deep as Hitchcock could get. Hitchcock did have some deeper films–Rebecca for example–but Foreign Correspondent is probably the best example of Hitchcock’s filmmaking skills. He uses methods and devices in this film that appear in everything. Whether or not these subsequent filmmakers picked it up from Correspondent, I doubt, given the quality of some of them. Watching early, raw Hitchcock is an exciting experience and Correspondent is one of the two best of these raw films (the other is The Lady Vanishes).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton and Robert Benchley; director of photography, Rudolph Mate; edited by Dorothy Spencer; released by United Artists.

Starring Joel McCrea (Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (Ffolliott), Albert Basserman (Van Meer), Robert Benchley (Stebbins), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley), Harry Davenport (Mr. Powers), Eduardo Ciannelli (Krug), Martin Kosleck (Tramp), Eddie Conrad (Latvian Diplomat), Crauford Kent (Toastmaster), Gertrude W. Hoffman (Mrs. Benson), Jane Novak (Miss Benson), Louis Borrell (Captain Lanson), Eily Malyon (English Cashier) and E.E. Clive (Mr. Naismith).