All those folks who wrote Santa Claus asking him to send them a sleek new custom-built comedy with fast lines and the very finest in Hollywood fittings got their wish just one day late with the opening of "The Philadelphia Story" yesterday at the Music Hall. For this present, which really comes via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, has just about everything that blue-chip comedy should have- a witty, romantic script derived by Donald Ogden Stewart out of Phillip Harry's successful play; the flavor of high-society elegance, in which the patrons invariably luxuriate, and a splendid cast of performers headed by Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Cary Grant. If it doesn't play out this year and well along into next they should turn the Music Hall into a shooting gallery.
It has been a long time since Hollywood has spent itself so extravagantly, and to such entertaining effect, upon a straight upper-crust fable, an unblushing apologia for plutocracy. Money and talent are mostly going these days into an elaborate outdoor epics and rugged individualistic films. It is like old times to see one about the trials and tribulations of the rich, and to have Miss Hepburn back, after a two year recess, as another spoiled and willful daughter of America's unofficial peerage, comporting herself easily amid swimming pools stables and the usual appurtenances of a huge estate.
For that is what she is- and does- in the Messrs, Stewart's and Barney's pleasant dissertation upon a largely pleasant dissertation upon a largely inconsequential subject, that subject being the redemption of a rather priggish and disagreeable miss. The writers have solemnly made her out as a frigid and demanding sort of person-one of a "special class of American females: the married maidens"- who has divorced her first husband and is preparing to take unto herself another simply because she doesn't understand her own psyche. But an amusing complication, whereby an ink-smeared journalist and a girl photographer turn up to "cover" her wedding for a "snoop" magazine leads to a strange exposure of her basic hypocrisy, and she remarries the proper man to the proper effect.
Truthfully, the psychology of the story is as spacious as a spiel, and, for all the talk about the little lady being "a sort of high priestess to a virgin goddess," etc., she is and remains at the end what most folks would calla plain snob. But the way Miss Hepburn plays her, with the wry things she is given to say, she is an altogether charming character to meet cinematically. Someone was rudely charging a few years ago that Miss Hepburn was "box-office poison." If she is, a lot of people don't read labels- including us.
But she isn't the only one who gives a brilliant performance in this film. James Stewart, as the acid word-slinger, matches her poke for gibe all the way and incidentally contributes one of the most cozy drunk scenes with the Miss Hepburn we've ever spent. Cary Grant, too, is warmly congenial as the cast-of but undefeated mate, and Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weldler, Roland Young and Mary Nash add much to the merriment.
Provided you have a little patience for the lavishly rich, which these folk are you should have great fun at "The Philadelphia Story." For Metro and Director George Cukor have graciously made it apparent in the words of a character, that one of the "prettiest sights in this pretty world is the privileged classes enjoying their privileges." And so, in this instance, will you, too.