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The Philadelphia Story

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Katharine Hepburn in a gold lamé swimsuit, swan-diving into a pool with her gorgeous limbs outstretched, as if she were receiving wavelengths from Mount Olympus: This will always be the image I associate with The Philadelphia Story. (Of course, Hepburn's character bristles at the notion that she's a goddess. Whatever!) This 1940 classic is basically flawless—a light but soulful drawing-room comedy in the Noel Coward tradition, with perfectly cast stars at their physical and comedic primes. Hepburn plays a wealthy, headstrong divorcée whose wedding to a new suitor (John Howard) gets screwed up when her ex (Cary Grant) invites a gossip columnist (James Stewart) to document the proceedings. But what's most impressive today is the film's reminder of how much TV and the decline of radio have affected moviemaking over the past 60 years: Compare this banter-happy romantic comedy to its contemporary equivalent—My Best Friend's Wedding, say—and Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart make their modern counterparts look and sound like Vicodin freaks. We're talking Eminem-level speed and wit; you'd better be on your toes. And yet the sexual tension between the drunkenly swooning Hepburn and Stewart requires no special skills of perception.


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