August Blind Spot: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

PhiladelphiaStoryPoster

Instead of a straight review, this post is more of my reaction of the movie and the cast, so I’m going to include some observations as well as trivia from IMDb.

There’s been a lot of ‘firsts’ with some of the Blindspot movies I saw. Well, with this one, it’s a lot of ‘seconds.’ It’s the second George Cukor film I saw (the first was My Fair Lady, but I’m not counting Gone With the Wind as he was fired early on from his directing duties) and it’s also the second Cary Grant + Katharine Hepburn film I saw after Bringing Up Baby.

It is however, the first time I saw both Cary Grant AND Jimmy Stewart in a movie together and honestly, that’s the main draw for me. I was also curious because this movie was regarded as one of the best rom-coms, in fact it ranked #5 on the AFI’s list of 10 greatest films in that genre. Well, now that I’ve seen it, I think it’s an enjoyable movie but it wasn’t GREAT by any means, in fact it got a bit silly at times and Stewart seems awkward in some of the scenes and not as effortless in comedy as Grant was. That’s why I was  surprised that Stewart actually won Best Actor that year, say what? Well, apparently the actor himself was shocked as well. According to IMDb, ‘Stewart never felt he deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, especially since he had initially felt miscast. He always maintained that Henry Fonda should have won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and that the award was probably “deferred payment for my work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”.’ Yep, I totally agree Stewart should’ve won for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which was another Blindspot film I saw earlier this year (read my review).

PhiladelphiaStory1

Now, for those who haven’t seen the film, the film is about a socialite, Tracy Lord (Hepburn) whose wedding plans to nouveau riche George Kittredge (John Howard) are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) and a tabloid magazine journalist Macaulay Connor (Stewart). The movie didn’t immediately click with me, which I often find with some classic films I saw, but fortunately it got a bit more engrossing as the film progressed. One reason I didn’t click with the movie right away could be because I couldn’t quite warm up to Hepburn. Yes I know she’s one of Hollywood’s best actresses and the most decorated with 12 nominations and four wins (WOW!), but out of the three films I saw her in, I find that she’s not immediately sympathetic. I mean there are other actresses who often play strong independent women with minds of their own, but they somehow still have a certain vulnerability and even warmth about them that I don’t quite see in Hepburn.

In any case, the movie itself is enjoyable enough, but lack the emotional resonance I felt with say, The Apartment or Roman Holiday. The actors are fun to watch as they’re bantering with one another, but I feel somewhat detached from them that it was hard for me to care about any of them. So for most of the movie, I was busy admiring the gorgeous costume design, especially all Hepburn’s dressed designed by Adrian.

PhiladelphiaStoryCostume

Hepburn had such a svelte figure that everything looked good on her, I especially love the Grecian dress she wore when she was dancing with Stewart by the pool. The transparent silk organza dress with string tie belt she wore in the finale [see above, bottom left] is my favorite as it looks ethereal and elegant, and it fits Hepburn so beautifully.

The chemistry between her and her male co-stars are ok, I think she seems most comfortable with Grant which is perhaps why they often do a film together. What I do enjoy more than the romance is the scenes of Grant and Stewart together. They seem to have a good rapport as they play off each other well. Just seeing these two biggest classic male superstars together is amusing enough, but the two have quite different styles of acting which made it even more fun to watch.

PhiladelphiaStory2

The scene where Stewart got the hiccups as he was drunk is pretty hilarious. I could tell Grant was amused and at times he looked like he was about to burst out laughing. As it turns out, the hiccup was improvised and Stewart didn’t tell Grant ahead of time, hence Grant’s natural amused reaction. LOVE it!

PhiladelphiaStory3

The supporting cast is pretty good, I thought Virginia Weidler is so darn cute as Tracy’s smart-alecky teenage sister and Ruth Hussey as the sardonic photographer who’s not-so-secretly in love with Stewart’s character.

SPOILER ALERT! [I figure I might not be the only one who hasn’t seen this] Now the movie ends in happy ending of course. And the trouble with seeing tons of still photos of the wedding scene before I finally saw it, I kind of know how it’d end so there’s no surprise there. Still it was pretty sweet, I think that’s probably the only dramatic moment in the entire film as the camera pans to both Grant and Hussey’s look of dismay as Stewart’s character proposed to Hepburn’s.

PhiladelphiaStory_Wedding

Final Thoughts: The high-society type comedies are pretty amusing to me and having three major movie stars certainly didn’t hurt, but for some reason I just wasn’t wowed by it. I know I’m in the minority as seems like everyone else LOVED this movie. I wish I loved it more but hey, it is what it is. That said, I’m glad I finally saw it and I’m still curious to see more work from all three actors. This movie is apparently based on a Broadway production and I think this story might actually work better on stage. I just saw Noël Coward’s 1930s comedy of manners Private Lives starring Toby Stephens & Anna Chancellor, I’d imagine the battle of the sexes with all the witty repartee would be similar to that. So overall the movie an enjoyable farce, but not exactly a comedic masterpiece it’s made out to be.

3.5 reels


BlindSpotSeriesSidebarCheck out my previous 2014 Blind Spot reviews


So have you seen The Philadelphia Story? I’m curious to hear what you think!

Weekend Roundup: It’s a Wonderful Life and The Blind Side

You can say I had a ‘Capra’-laden weekend. On Friday night, I finally get to see the all-time Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life for the first time with my movie-nite gals. The next day, my hubby & I caught The Blind Side at a local theater, and even in its fourth week of release, the theater’s still more than half-packed (it’s #2 at the box office this week). One reviewer called The Blind Side as veering a bit closer to Capra territory. That’s a debatable point surely, but both movies share something in common in that they’re unabashedly affecting and pack such emotional wallop as my eyes were swollen by the time the end credits rolled. Coincidentally, I also saw an oldie-but-goodie rom-com with none other than Nicholas Cage called It Could Happen to You (about a NYC cop who gives a waitress a $2 million-dollar tip), which was also regarded by some reviewers (such as this one) to be a bit Capra-esque in its warmth and simplicity.

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It’s A Wonderful Life

There’s little wonder why this movie never fails to make it to anyone’s Top Christmas Movies list. As Rockerdad said, it may be heavy on melodrama but it’s such a rewarding experience with an uplifting moral message to take stock of one’s life, no matter how seemingly destitute we think it is. I absolutely fell in love with it and wish I had seen this sooner! Not having grown up in the States, there are lots of classic movies I haven’t had the privilege of seeing. But after watching this — and listening to Prairiegirl and Rockerdad’s classic-flix discussions — I definitely have to acquaintance myself with some of them (though there are a few I’ll never have interest in seeing, i.e. The Wizard of Oz).

As this is the first James Stewart movie I’ve ever seen, I must admit I really enjoy watching him. I don’t know if I would’ve enjoyed it as much if the role had gone to Cary Grant (it almost did, according to IMDb trivia). I have to admit I like Stewart more acting-wise than Grant when I first saw him in To Catch a Thief. Stewart’s journey as George Bailey is so moving that after mere minutes of watching the movie, I was fully invested in his character. It’s not so much that I was watching an actor named Jimmy Stewart, but I was watching this guy George living his ‘wonderful’ life, despite the not-so-wonderful moments it threw at him.

Besides Stewart, the acting is superb all around. Donna Reed is perfect as Mary in her acting debut, she reminds me a lot of Olivia deHavilland (Melanie in Gone with the Wind) who was offered the role. Her telephone scene with Stewart was brimming with restrained romantic tension that was breathtaking to watch. Even more incredible is that according to the DVD Special Features, that formidable scene was done in one take! Lionel Barrymore, like Rockerdad said, plays the Scrooge-like villain so brilliantly there were times I almost wanted to throw my remote at him! But Stewart really made this movie. His transition from a buoyant optimist to a downtrodden, broken man is utterly believable and heartbreaking — we can all relate to his George Bailey and more than empathize with him. Even when he was being a jerk to his family, you feel for the imperfect hero that Bailey was.

I was also amazed to learn that the town of Bedford Falls was a set, all four acres of them was all built in the RKO’s studio Encino ranch! Some parts obviously looked like a set, but for the most part it looks impressively like a real small town. I LOVE the fact that it’s in black and white. There’s a colorized version of this, which is a shame as they should’ve left it in its black & white glory. Even Jimmy Stewart himself was one of the most prominent critics of this process, calling it ‘denaturing’ when he appealed before congress against it.

The best part of the movie course is the unabashedly positive message about appreciating one’s life and what a gift it is, not just for ourselves but for others whose life we touch. It’s also quite rare to see movies these days where a prayerful Christian family is depicted in a favorable light, and as someone who believes in a God who indeed answers prayers, that’s a gratifying thing to behold.

5 out of 5 reels

Which brings me to another inspirational movie I saw the very next day …
….

The Blind Side

This flick is definitely one of the unexpected indie hits of the year, even beating the tween vampire juggernaut that is New Moon over the Thanksgiving weekend (even for just a day it’s still impressive!).

I must admit I was intrigued after hearing all the positive reviews on this. This isn’t the kind of flick I usually rush to see at the theaters, as I prefer more action or sci-fi fares to a tearjerker drama any day. When I say this one is a tearjerker, I truly meant it as my eyes were rarely dry in the 2-hour plus running time! The movie is inspired by a true story of an African-American youngster Michael Oher who’s taken in by the Touhys — a wealthy white family in the South — who ended up helping him realize his full potential as an NFL-caliber football player.

As M. Carter stated in her always well-written review, The Blind Side is heavy on heart-tugging emotion but light on schmaltzy sentimentality. I had a pretty high expectation given the positive reviews and still I was pleasantly surprised by it. It’s an inspiring understated drama thanks largely to Sandra Bullock’s assertive but guarded performance. I’ve always liked Bullock, she always comes across very genial and relatable, but she really won me over here with her sensitive portrayal of Leigh Ann Touhy. She’s already nominated for a Golden Globe this year (a dual nominations as she also nabbed one for The Proposal) and she truly deserved it.

The rest of the cast isn’t bad, either. Kathy Bates is always watchable as Michael’s Tutor, while Quinton Aaron’s performance as Michael really tugs your heart strings, even if he’s a bit awkward at times. Country star Tim McGraw is surprisingly charming as Sean Touhy and the pint-sized Jae Head (who looks even more diminutive compared to big Teddy bear that is Big Mike) provides comic relief for the movie. The one with least to do here is the Touhy daughter Collins (interestingly enough she’s the daughter of British musician Phil Collins).

The Blind Side wasn’t marketed as a Christian movie, but it paints a refreshingly flattering picture of a Christian family. The real-life Touhys are devout believers but the movie is never preachy. As the same time it also doesn’t shy away from showing the characters act out their faith and being thankful to God. The filmmakers also portray the enviably harmonious family dynamic — including the amiable relationship between Leigh Ann and her husband Sean — that feels genuine and natural.

But the most touching of all is Leigh Ann’s unexpected connection with Michael. Despite their contrasting walk of life, they’re kindred spirits, like M. Carter said, and their bond feels heartwarmingly sincere. There’s a part when she was told by one of her friends over lunch that she’s changing Michael’s life, Leigh Ann replied, “No, he’s changing mine.” That maudlin sentiment is sneer-proof as it was delivered with real earnestness.

What a fitting movie this one is for the Holiday season. Like Christmas staple It’s a Wonderful Life, it inspires us not only to be thankful for what we’ve been blessed with, but also to share them joyfully.

4 out of 5 reels

Have you seen these films? Please share your thoughts on ’em below.

Classic Flix Review: Vertigo by Rockerdad

VinceCaroBanner

VertigoPosterWell, FlixChatter readers, Ruth has kindly asked for another classic movie review – and with her encouragement, I picked a film I hope will end up in your DVD queues at home or the video store as one to watch over the weekend.

Thanks to prairiegirl, I recently got a chance to see the old, rarely-seen or shown Hitchcock thriller Young and Innocent (1937). As is the case with most of his pre-Hollywood films, it was full of dry, detached British humor, complete with a Hitchcock cameo and topped off with a touch of understated light romance. While excited at finally seeing this rare and wonderful early work (which climaxed with a black-faced jazz drummer having a heart attack), the experience paled in comparison to one I had seen the night before as the subject of this review – I’m referring to the fatalistic, romantic, suspense thriller Vertigo (1958).

It’s difficult to write about what may be my favorite Hitchcock movie, even out-pulsing the terrific North by Northwest. But Vertigo works on so many levels – cinematically, psychologically, psycho-sexually, that it is hands-down Hitchcock’s most complex work and arguably his masterpiece.

The film revolves around Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), a police detective, suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights) after witnessing a fellow police officer fall to his death during a rooftop chase. Scottie, psychologically scarred from the traumatic experience, is forced to retire from the force but is somehow coaxed by old college buddy and shipping magnate Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to do some private eye work for him – specifically, to tail his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak in a dual role). She is sporting some incredibly strange behavior, mysteriously (and glamourously) wandering aimlessly around San Francisco in a trance-like state. This leads Elster to fear she might be a danger to herself. As Scottie trails the beautiful Mrs. Elster, he develops an obsession towards her, much to the chagrin of Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), Scottie’s ex-fiancee and confidant.

Vertigo iconic still photo
Vertigo iconic still photo

Scottie starts to believe that Madeleine is possessed by the spirit of a long dead woman, Carlotta Valdez, the subject of a historical painting she religiously visits at the local museum. After Madeleine jumps into San Francisco Bay in a seeming attempt to end her life, Scottie saves her and is tragically hooked. He is in love with her. Scottie tries to help her stave off her demons by revisiting Carlotta’s old haunts. In the conclusion of the film’s first act, Scottie and Madeleine drive to San Juan Batista, an old Spanish mission, from Carlotta’s past, in an attempt to cure her of her nightmares. Instead, Madeleine succeeds in taking her life, as Scottie fails to reach her, his vertigo or acrophobia preventing him from climbing the bell tower she leaps from.

Now we see Scottie’s mental state deteriorate into catatonia – his guilt, lost love, and trauma (now two-fold) too much to bear. His disintegration leads him to frequent Madeleine’s old haunts and is relegated into wandering the streets of San Francisco just as Madeleine had. One day, he stalks a simple shop girl, Judy (also played by Kim Novak) who has a slight resemblance to Madeleine if unrefined. As he courts her, his obsession overwhelms him. He starts to dress her up in Madeleine’s clothes, hair, and personal effects. Judy is reluctant with his desires to transform her, Scottie is immovable and takes an analytical precision in transforming her into the woman he desires…

The film was adapted by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor from Sueurs froides: d’entre les morts (“Cold Sweat: From Among the Dead”) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. It is rumored that the novel was specifically written for Hitchcock after he failed to secure the rights to their previous novel, Celle qui n’était plus, which became Les Diabolique (1955) by Henri-Georges Clouzot, a great film in it’s own right.

The film is shot beautifully in color, on location in San Francisco (with some shots on a soundstage), by longtime collaborator Robert Burks. In classic Hitchcock style, famous landmarks are part of the cast: Golden Gate Bridge, San Juan Batista, Mission district and Redwood National Park. The memorable title sequence was designed by notable Graphic Artist Saul Bass. But perhaps the most important element to the films cinematic experience is Bernard Herrmann’s incredible score. Without it, the film would lose its romanticism, mystique and tragedy. It is my favorite of all Herrmann’s work. The music itself stands alone as a complete work of art.

James Stewart & Kim Novak
James Stewart & Kim Novak

Also part of Vertigo’s genius is Stewart’s performance as Scottie. We see him go through the darkest of transformations – this isn’t George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life or Mr. Smith from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Here, Stewart plays a tortured, damaged soul. Kim Novak is excellent as the tragic femme fatale, playing both sides of a coin – refined and unrefined – but captivating in both. Hitchcock originally cast Vera Miles in Madeleine’s role, but a pregnancy and other commitments gave Novak a chance to shine.

The film has been restored in glorifying color and the soundtrack re-recorded (including some foley effects) according to Hitchcock’s original notes. Some purists prefer the scratchy mono version but this is a real treat to hear in stereo and surround.

Vertigo stands, in my book, as Hitchcock’s greatest film. It was misunderstood at its first release, with critics giving it mixed reviews. Its complexity, tone and unusual story arc confused some expecting predictable noir fare. But time has proven this to be a true classic, one that perhaps exemplifies the apex of the Technicolor noir film of the 1950s.

Check out the awesome trailer below:

– Thanks again to my pal Vince Caro for the review!


So what do you all think of Vertigo? Let us know what you think!