Watching Old Movies: The Philadelphia Story (1940)


Highest Grossing Film: Rebecca

Best Picture: Rebecca

What happened this year?

Pretty big year for cartoons actually. Not only was Disney’s Pinocchio released, as well as the (at the time) less successful Fantasia, but 1940 was also the first appearance of Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Daisy Duck, Elmer Fudd and Woody the Woodpecker (Although Bugs, Woody and T&J wouldn’t actually be named until 1941). Also a fairly big year for superhero comics with the introduction of Robin the Boy Wonder and everyone’s favourite Hitler puncher, Captain America (along with his sidekick/future Sebastian Stan, Bucky). I will admit I was somewhat surprised to learn that Robin was introduced less than a year after Batman’s initial creation. I’d always assumed Bats had had a much longer solo career before Robin was thrown into the mix, but nope. He turned up just 11 issues later.

Also, the first ever McDonalds opened, Roosevelt was nominated for and managed to win a third term, making him the only president to ever do so, and Abbot and Costello made their first ever movie appearance. Speaking of, this was also the year where the first parody of Hitler and the Nazis appeared in a Hollywood production and you might be surprised to learn it was actually the Three Stooges who beat everyone else to the punch, with their short film ‘You Nazty Spy’. It doesn’t quite have the same punch as Charlies Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, which came 9 months later in the year, but it does have the Hitler stand-in and his generals getting eaten by lions, so that’s something.

As for war news, Germany invaded a bunch of places, including France, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Denmark. Britain finally got off its ass and booted out Chamberlain, replacing him with the much more likeable Churchill (as long as you don’t look at anything outside his war record) who made a ton of badass speeches to cement his position as the big badass political leader of WWII (although, once again, do not look at his record outside of said war). Which was somewhat necessary since this was also the year where the Evacuation of Dunkirk happened, followed shortly by the Battle of Britain (which went significantly more in the British’s favour) and the Blitz not long after that.

On the famous births side of things, we’ve got John Hurt, George A. Romero, H.R. Giger, Peter Fonda, Raul Julia (OF COURSE!!), Chuck Norris, James Caan, Al Pacino, Tom Jones, Nancy Pelosi, Patrick Stewart, James Brolin, Martin Sheen, Brian de Palma, John Lennon, Cliff Richard, Michael Gambon, Pele, Bruce Lee and Richard Pryor. Fuck me, that’s a long list of important people.

Anyway, on with the pre-show

Pre-Show: A Wild Hare

Ruk’s Thoughts:

This was… interesting. The way that I can best describe this experience is, have you read or watched a long-running manga/comic/cartoon series that has gone on for years and years, with a slow but subtle art-shift that you’ve gotten used to, and then gone back to re-read the first chapter and felt surprised at how… rough, but still recognisable the designs are? That’s kind of this short, with Bugs Bunny. I’d heard multiple times before that Bugs himself was based on Clark Gable’s character from ‘It Happened One Night’ (which is a great movie, fyi,) hence where the carrot munching came from, along with other quirks, but it’s never been so obvious as looking upon this proto-design of bugs that legitimately does resemble that character.

Honestly, this short does feel like a ‘proto-Bugs’ in a lot of different ways. It has a lot of the earmarks of a classics Bugs Bunny Looney Tunes, with Bugs trolling Elmer, acting the fool, being a massive ham, playing up Elmer’s stupidity and the sheer gall of many of Bugs’s actions, but it does them in a fairly rough. While not exactly bad, it doesn’t have the same speed, pacing or polish as the traditional Looney Tunes and very much felt like they were getting used to the role in a lot of ways. So in that regard, it’s honestly a fairly interesting watch. Still, as far as actual Looney Tunes entertainment go, they clearly haven’t hit their stride yet. But if you are interested in seeing the history and development of one of animation’s most iconic characters, this is an interesting short to watch. B

Main Feature: The Philadelphia Story

Plot:  It’s the event of the year (kinda) as famed socialite Tracy Lord prepares for her second marriage, after her previous one ended in heartache. However, things become more complicated when her ex-husband and a surprisingly charming tabloid reporter turn up at her step, both of whom she shares some intimacy with. Will she continue on with the wedding? Here’s a hint. The ex-husband and tabloid reporter are played by Cary Grant and James Stewart. Who’s the new husband played by? Who even gives a fuck.

Trivia: Cary Grant demanded top billing and $100,000 salary–a huge amount at the time. As it turned out, however, he donated his entire earnings to the British War Relief Fund.

Ruk’s Thoughts:

Man, 1940 was a hell of a good year for movies. Pinocchio, Fantasia, Rebecca, The Great Dictator and so on. Unfortunately, I happen to have already seen all of those movies, so instead I’m going slightly out of my comfort zone and checking out this movie instead, a romantic comedy about a wealthy heiress with the reputation of an ‘ice queen’ (non-literal, this isn’t a Frozen prequel) getting married for the second time and the antics surrounding the upcoming wedding. It has an all-star cast including Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and others and has a good reputation as one of the best movies of the year.

Still, with that said, I was kinda underwhelmed by it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad movie by any means, and it has plenty of things to like about it. But for a movie that seemingly reignited Katherine Hepburn’s career and won Jimmy Stewart an oscar, I wasn’t astoundingly impressed. It wasn’t as funny as a lot of rom coms I’ve seen from the time, nor as affecting or engaging. And for all the criticism that was piled on Katherine Hepburn’s character for being ‘cold’ or ‘moody’, she seemed mostly fine to me. Although maybe that’s just 1940’s gender dynamics at work.

Like I said though, there were things I did like about it. Cary Grant is effortless charismatic as he is in almost every role and I was surprised by how much I liked the sarcastic younger sister character. But I really wasn’t all that interested in Jimmy Stewart’s character and I outright disagreed with the film on the subject of Hepburn’s father, who came off as painfully unsympathetic and a tremendous asshole in a scene that I suspect was supposed to have him be in the right.

Still, it’s not a terrible movie, I will admit, but it just didn’t seemed to click with me or work like similar movies did. B-

Feature Rankings (1940s):

  1. The Philadelphia Story- B-

Short Rankings (1940s):

  1. A Wild Hare- B

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