The seventh in a series reviewing the American Film Institute Top 100 in random order.
“Aw, you don’t look old enough to get married, not even the first time, but then you never did. She needs trouble to mature her, Kittredge. Give her lots of it.” – Cary Grant as C. K. Dexter Haven
I had my doubts about whether a romantic comedy from 1940 set among the wealthy would still hold up after all these years. After all, what lessons could possibly be gleaned from watching a group of socialites fret about what to canapés to serve at a posh, upper-crust wedding? I’m happy to report that high society, apart from being the impetus for getting James Stewart‘s working-class voice into the film, plays little more of a role than just providing the setting. The situations the characters find themselves in and the emotions that result could be told again today about any class of people with very little re-imagining.
Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn, reprising the role she played on Broadway) has divorced her first husband, C. K. Dexter Haven (the supremely charming Cary Grant) and two years later, is about to marry the self-made George Kittredge (John Howard). Haven has other plans, though, and enlists the help of writer-turned reporter Macaulay Conner (Stewart) to disrupt the event. What follows might seem like a comedic love triangle of sorts, though being released squarely in the meat of the Hays Code years, about the most lascivious thing you see is Stewart carrying Hepburn, both dressed in floor-length terry cloth robes, away from a pool while singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. The nice thing about the film is that it really does belong to Hepburn. She’s the lynchpin that holds the whole thing together, and not for once are we ever left doubting what each of her three would-be suitors see in her. She is so legitimately charming, she’s able to carry this movie having us believe she’s the object of Cary Grant’s, James Stewart’s, and John Howard’s affections.
And speaking of James Stewart, he really was a treat in this. After just having watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (which was released the year before), it was good to see he’d lost most of his doe-eyed innocence and even managed to pick up some cynicism, a drinking habit, and a mean, populist streak. I was beginning to wonder what it was Alfred Hitchcock saw in him that made him so right for the movies they eventually made together. After seeing him play a bit of a more believable, three-dimensional character here, I’m anxiously looking forward to watching them again as part of this series.
Back to the film, it’s interesting that each of these men has fallen in love with certain aspects of Hepburn’s character, and to be honest, she doesn’t make it easy to root for any of them consistently. She can be a little flighty, and perhaps didn’t have the best parental examples when she was growing up. But she’s a strong, independent woman who’s pretty sure she deserves to be loved for whom she is, not who her suitors want her to be. And that’s a lesson that women (or men, for that matter) can learn, no matter what time period or social class or city they live in.
Up next in the queue, 1952′s High Noon, in which our hero wonders what the hell Ronald Reagan was talking about.
Click here for an Index of my AFI Top 100 movie reviews.