When Katharine Hepburn was considered for a key role in a comedy, the question came up: Can this vivacious, romantic star prove also to make people laugh?
She got her chance in one of the last great classic comedies of the early '40s and proved herself so natural a comic there followed a decade of winners, co-starring her with the likes of Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant.
It's a known fact, people love comedies - not today's vulgar smut passed off as "funny," but those created for audiences seeking viable all family escape for a few hours in the dark. For a dime they could laugh at the rich and famous engaged in foolish eccentricities. Such films were called screwball comedies, and they pleased audiences right into the war years. Thanks to the likes of Gable, Colbert, Grant and Hepburn, we laughed, we cried, we sighed in happy distraction, as they proved amusingly that if anything could go wrong, it would.
Dec. 24, 1940, at N.Y.'s Radio City Music Hall: MGM's latest comedy about the rich and famous premiered. Everyone who delighted in outrageous comedies with fast action, bright repartee, and the finest in Hollywood talent got their wish. "The Philadelphia Story," adapted from a blue-chip Broadway hit, spared nothing to break box-office records.
Directed by George Cukor, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and a host of MGM notables, it was just what economically stressed audiences wanted: a witty script in which high society luxuriated in elegant surroundings, played cat-and-mouse with each other, and teased seductively, only to prove themselves as much caught up in ridiculous life situations as the rest of us - but in a diamond-studded environment.
To find Hepburn testing her comic sense as a spoiled and willful daughter of wealth, comporting in glamorous garb among the horsey set, amid swimming pools, stables, and the usual love and hate capers around a huge estate - well, it was just what Santa offered that December in 1940 to an eagerly awaiting audience and, later, to the rest of us right down to today, when, in contrast to the latest crude humor, it's more fun, more mature, more delightful than ever.
Hepburn plays one of those wealthy women who marry and divorce as easily as casting off an old coat; she is about to shed one hubby (Grant) for another, just as an ink-smeared journalist (Stewart) turns up to cover that social event of the season, only to cause a series of bumbles that turn the wedding day into unbridled chaos.
The performances of the entire star-studded cast, headed by the three leads and Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weidler, Roland Young and Mary Nash, add tremendously to the unrestrained fun that throws everything and everyone into disarray - fulfilling the observation of one of them that, "One of the prettiest sights in this pretty world is the privileged classes suffering their privileges and their distracted mishaps."
Good news: "The Philadelphia Story" will be featured as the next Club Indigo, Friday the 13th, where the best of the great screwball comedies can be enjoyed on the big screen just as audiences saw it in New York, complete with Franz Waxman's lush score, Cedrick Gibbons' art deco designs and Irene Sharaff's exotic wardrobes.
It begins at 7:15 p.m., preceded by a 6 p.m. buffet of "rich" East Coast delicacies from the chefs at the Hancock Keweenaw Co-op. The cost for buffet and film is $18, and the film alone is $5, with special discounts for youngsters.
For the buffet, call the Calumet Theatre for seating at least a day in advance at 337-2610.
"The Philadelphia Story" has been made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Country Village Shops in Copper Harbor.
Note: The Sondheim musical comedy "A Little Night Music" can be seen on Sunday afternoon the 15th at the Rosza Center, Houghton, a happy conclusion to this year's Pine Mountain Music Festival.
Rotten Tomato averages: "Magic Mike," B-; "Ted," C+; "Spider Man," B