My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1940: Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story"

After having been declared ‘box-office poison’, Katharine Hepburn returned to the stage and regained respect and popularity in the comedy The Philadelphia Story. The central part of Tracy Lord was written especially for Katharine Hepburn so it is no surprise that she also reprised the role in the movie version directed by her good friend George Cukor. The success of the movie reconciled Katharine Hepburn with Hollywood and brought her her third Oscar nomination.

The Philadelphia Story is a classic screwball comedy that tells the story of Tracy Lord, a spoiled heiress who is getting ready for her second marriage but suddenly finds herself with her ex-husband and two reporters in her home and suddenly the question of “Who marries whom?” isn’t as easy to answer as it was before…

Like every screwball comedy, The Philadelphia Story shows the never ending fight of the sexes with witty dialogue and fast deliveries. Kate may have played the part on Broadway for a while before she did the film version but thankfully she was already an experienced movie actress at the time so that she was able to transfer her performance from stage to screen without the typical ‘stage-acting’ that can be seen in so many other performances that were originated in that medium. Katharine Hepburn is absolutely flawless in her part and she was one of the few actresses who was able to shine in both drama and comedy and in The Philadelphia Story she could combine these two with wonderful effect.

Katharine often brought a certain kind of superiority (maybe even arrogance) to her film roles and this never worked better than here. At the beginning, Kate shows Tracy as a very secure woman, totally confident of herself and, yes, maybe even arrogant. When her fiancée talks about reporters, she simply answers “Not in my house”. He has to remind her that it will be “our house”. Katharine shows that Tracy is not only confident but also very decisive – about her own life but also about everybody else’s. She sees the world in her own way, her truth is an universal truth and she has problems not only to accept, but even to recognize other people’s point of views. Katharine Hepburn is wonderfully able to show these sides of Tracy but she never forgets to also invest her with a wide sense of comedy. Her sarcastic line delivery, her way of laughing at her own character without ridiculing her are some of Kate’s most precious talents.

Even though The Philadelphia Story is a classic and a real gem, it is not flawless, especially because of a dated script that blames Tracy for apparently everything, even her father’s affair and it’s frustrating to see Tracy even accept that her demanding and strong personality is to blame for her emotional distance to other people. But Katharine Hepburn is still wonderful enough in the part to help overlook these facts and enjoy the amazing chemistry between her, Cary Grant and James Stewart. And even though the transformation in Tracy’s character may have been motivated by rather dubious reasons, it is still magnificent to see Katharine Hepburn show how she begins to doubt herself and see things differently. In the night before the wedding, due to a lot of liquor, everything sort of seems to fall out of place for Tracy but that way everything turns out for the better. Katharine Hepburn is wonderful in those scenes opposite James Stewart when they are talking after the party and he tells her that she is not made out of bronze, but a living and passionate human being.

In every minute of The Philadelphia Story, Katharine Hepburn shows both the dramatic and the humorous aspects of the story. Her incredibly talent for comedy is certainly the most visible in the scenes when she decides to make a ‘show’ for a pair of reporters and behave just the way they expect her to behave. Her non-stop talking, her arrogance, her ability to ask more questions than the reporters is hilarious to watch. And who can forget her “Oh, j’espère bien que ce n’est pas les smallpox!”? Or when James Stewart talks about his friends and she says with her fantastic sarcastic voice “Of whom you have many, I’m sure!”

Katharine Hepburn gives a wonderful, layered and multidimensional performance that, as fantastic as it is, never overshadows the work of her amazing co-stars. The Philadelphia Story may be a Katharine-Hepburn-movie but it’s also an ensemble piece and everybody is able to shine in the most magnificent way.

In a part that fits her like a glove, Katharine Hepburn gives on of her greatest and most iconic performances for which she gets


Ann Nyberg said...

I love this post!
As a member of the board of trustees of the brand new Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center and Theater in Hepburn's beloved seaside home of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, we would love it if you'd link to us.
It is the only theater in the world named after the 4-time Academy Award winning actress.
Here we are:

Fritz said...

Thanks for your post (it's nice to know that somebody reads my posts).

I've put you under the blogs I follow! Your theatre looks very interesting!