Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #44 on the list: The Philadelphia Story (1940).
The Philadelphia Story begins on an exceptionally sour note of domestic abuse, with Cary Grant forcibly pushing Katharine Hepburn to the ground. This alone would be tough for any film to recover from, even if it included a redemptive arc for Grant’s character, but the film’s biggest failing is that it really doesn’t give the three exceptional lead actors, especially Grant, any kind of substantial character development to work with. If it were an outright screwball comedy, this wouldn’t be a huge issue, as the rapid-fire pacing might pick up the slack, but The Philadelphia Story unfolds slowly, especially for a film taking place primarily over 24 hours. That’s not to say it’s dull, because even though the writing fails the principal characters, there are plenty of delightful B-plots with the supporting cast to keep the film engaging. But for a film where three of the era’s best actors share the screen, “engaging” is damning praise. The Philadelphia Story admirably tries to balance comedy, drama, and romance, but doesn’t completely succeed in any respect. There’s enough on-screen chemistry between Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart to make it entertaining, but by the end, I’m still left with that sour taste in my mouth.
Does It Belong on the List?