Watching classics with a modern eye
By Elizabeth MS Flynn, w/a Eilis Flynn
Recently, we checked out a classic to see how it had stood the test of time. So we watched The Philadelphia Story again after many, many years. If you haven't seen it, it stars Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart, with Hepburn starring as a Philadelphia blueblood socialite divorcee who is on the verge of remarrying, this time to a decent man of means who's worked his way up, when who should show up but her ex-husband, played by Cary Grant, who wants her back. Add to that mix Stewart, who's a reporter after a story, and who also falls in love with her. Oh, what's a girl to do?
I was reminded that I didn't like this movie when I first saw it, and I really didn't like it after not having seen it for forty years or so. And considering I've always adored Hepburn, who played strong women, that I wanted to kick her character into the pool and keep her there surprised me. The character, Tracy Lord, is a pampered, privileged prig who doesn't learn and grow after the events of the movie, remaining pampered, privileged and gets everything she wants. Worst of all, she's the classic Mary Sue, who's got three men in love with her. What to do? What to do?
And this was a HUGE movie when it came out, based on a smash success Broadway play. It was Hepburn’s comeback after being deemed box office poison for a while, and it did the job. If nothing else proves that society has changed, this movie does it. Likable? No. The working-class types represented by Jimmy Stewart and his photographer sidekick weren't all that likable, either. The only likable character was the kid sister, played by a young actress named Virginia Weidler, who stood out like a beacon and whose rendition of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" was charming.
Cultural norm changes aside, as a writer this story annoyed me. I found I didn't CARE about the characters, except to hope they were thrown into a lion's cage and torn into pieces. They had money and privilege but they had little humanity, not connecting with the rest of the world. Not even the representation of the rest of the world, in the form of the working-class fiance and the reporter and the photographer, gave it much depth. They had it all, and they knew it, and screw the rest, classic "I've got mine, so who cares about you" sneer.
Hey, I get enough of that when I read the newspaper. The last thing I want is to have that attitude shoved in my face by people I'm supposed to be cheering for.
Could the story be updated for today's stars? No doubt. It was redone as a musical, High Society, in the 1950s, starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra (Kelly's last movie before she went off to become a princess). I haven't seen that, if at all, so maybe I'll do so to see if I like that version any better.
We’ll have to check out other classic movies. It’s an interesting experiment, seeing classics from a modern perspective.