What I’ve been up to

I’m one of those people who has a definitive answer if you ask what my favorite movie of all time is: “The Philadelphia Story.”

This isn’t one of those calculated-to-be-cool answers; I didn’t go through the algorithms of:

old picture (good)
legendary actors starring (good)
not the obvious choice (i.e. Casablanca, Citizen Kane) (good)
not a camp selection (in order to downplay cheesiness) (good)
cool choice

It does fit all of that, but that’s not why it’s my choice. It’s damn funny, for one thing, even by today’s standards. That’s when they really wrote a script, with jokes that were intelligent and verbal, not having to do with farts (farts are funny, but not all the time) or overt sexual innuendo (though there’s plenty of sex under the surface), and you could apply the phrase “verbal repartee” and it would mean something. Then it has The Sexiest Man Ever to Grace The Screen Who Isn’t George Clooney (that would be Cary Grant), and then it has my favorite actress of all time as the star: Katharine Hepburn.

I just dig her. In real life, she was way ahead of her time; a feminist before anyone called anyone that, wore pants before women really did that — literally and figuratively. Then, after taking her bumps in the industry (she was called Katharine of Arrogance, there was that legendary review from critic Dorothy Parker who said of Hepburn’s appearance in a play, “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B”), took charge of her career in a way few actors, much less actresses did. Yes, she had some patrons: family friend Philip Barry, who based “TPS” very much off of the Hepburn household, and Tracy Lord on Kate, and Howard Hughes, her onetime suitor who helped her buy the rights to “TPS” the play and then “TPS” the movie so that she could star and restart her career. Which is exactly what happened.

But it’s not even just those things I like about “TPS.” I really like Tracy Lord throughout the film (I’ve never seen the play), and I always feel like she gets a bum rap. She’s got a philandering father, her ex husband was a drunk, and all around her people are fools, silly, incompetent or some combination thereof. Can she help it that she’s, well, none of those things? I find her sympathetic early on, then everyone starts calling her on being cold and insensitive to human frailty and I’m thinking — well, yeeeees, but … come on, y’all are morons! But Tracy takes it on the chin and starts actually hearing all of them for the first time, gets drunk at her own party and nearly gets it on with Jimmy Stewart (and after he woos he at the pool, who wouldn’t?) and passes out. The next morning she’s quite sure she has done the nasty with Jimmy, and is all contrite and very much, “Well, y’all were right, I’m no better than the rest of you.” But she didn’t! Maybe only because she passed out, but the point is that everyone else with all their “human frailties” all around her are still just the same incompetents they were before, while she just got drunk.

Still, you go along with the fact that Tracy Has Learned to Be Human and it all wraps up quite nicely at the end. I do have this argument with the film — especially a scene where her dad insinuates that if she’d been “the right kind of daughter” he wouldn’t have been a philanderer, which to modern ears has an ick level you don’t really want to think about, but even that aside sounds deeply condescending and void of responsibility; Mr. Lord is my least favorite character in the picture — but it doesn’t stop me from absolutely loving this picture. I even love the musical version, “High Society,” with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart roles, even if Grace Kelly was in the lead. She’s not bad, but she’s the Gwyneth Paltrow of her day and I don’t like GP either. (Plus, “HS” has Louis Armstrong so you can’t miss there.) “HS” also has one of my favorite musical sequences ever:

Did You Evah

Which leads me to what I was doing tonight. Katharine Houghton, Kate’s niece and Sydney Poitier’s other half from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” gave a talk tonight at the Metropolitan Museum of Art about her aunt, and talked us through the early arc of Kate’s career, from the gender-bending flop of “Sylvia Scarlett” to the fighting-for-her-life ensemble “Stage Door” to the career resurrecting “The Philadelphia Story.” Over an hour and a half she scattered anecdotes from her aunt’s history with critical notices and clips from the films; the museum is going to screen all three tomorrow (I decided I could have my own marathon at home if I wanted, since I own all three). I’m sad that I never got to meet Kate, and Houghton is not exactly a pale imitation — she’s no imitation at all — but I do love jumping at the chance to enjoy some Kate history with someone who at least knew her. (She came on the stage in some kind of fur-trimmed vestment carrying a glass of clear liquid and assured us it “wasn’t gin” before she went to the podium.)

Right, so there was a point here.

The point being: “TPS” and “HS” — if you haven’t seen either, get ’em now. Fantastic films.


Unrelated: I applied for “The Alaska Experiment 2” today. I’m quite sure that a) I won’t get chosen and b) if I do get chosen my current job will disqualify me, but we’ll see. Frankly I’d be terrified to do it, but it’s also one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. I have no interest in being on TV, but arguably if there’s a camera crew watching you do all this stuff, you’re less likely to get killed in the process. Arguably. At least the whole first season cast came back intact, so there’s that going for it.

Then again, maybe it’s just an excuse to meet Les Stroud, who hosted the reunion special?

I sense Kate would approve of such folly, though.


  1. purly on 6/13/08 at 8:19 pm

    Hey that’s alan rickman’s favorite movie too.

  2. Armchair News on 6/13/08 at 10:17 pm

    Has he ever explained why?

  3. Bookishly Fabulous on 6/14/08 at 7:14 am

    I love Katherine Hepburn also.  I think I like Desk Set and Adam’s Rib best though.  Her and Spencer Tracy played off of each other so well.  And she plays a reference librarian in Desk Set.  😉

  4. Armchair News on 6/14/08 at 9:11 am

    I do like Hepburn and Tracy films a LOT (I think I learned how to put my hair up in a towel from “Adam’s Rib”) but never as much as her films with Cary Grant.

    And don’t you love the plant she has in Desk Set? The one that just wraps around the whole room practically?

    Librarians are cool, lady!