Famous film to feature at the Roxy – Grant, Hepburn and Stewart in best form

July 29, 2016

This week’s Film Club selection is most appropriate, given the recent 80th anniversary of our iconic Roxy Theatre. Why? Well, when “The Philadelphia Story” was filmed and released, the Roxy itself was but 4 years old. So how better than to match a famous venue with a famous film? And all this happens at the Roxy Theatre, Bingara at 4pm on Sunday afternoon.

“The Philadelphia Story” certainly is a famous film with a fascinating origin. It would be far too simple to describe it as the forerunner to one of our best-loved musicals “High Society”, even though the two versions are very similar in script. Few people would know that the work first appeared on the Broadway stage in 1939.

The play ‘The Philadelphia Story” was written by Phillip Barry, and was about a “poor little rich girl” socialite whose wedding plans are complicated by the arrival of her ex-husband and a tabloid magazine journalist.

This is where the story gets interesting. Katherine Hepburn, who starred in the Broadway play, had a film career that was very much “in limbo” after a string of cinematic failures. Even the classic “Bringing Up Baby”, screened some years ago at NWTC Film Club, had crashed at the box-office, and Hepburn’s name was included on a list that the major studios considered to be “box office poison”. How could this have possibly happened to an actress widely regarded later as the greatest ever?

Hepburn’s strategy to resurrect her career was brilliant, and courageous. With the help of Howard Hughes (some help!), she acquired the film rights to the play in order to control it as a vehicle for her screen comeback. She then sold the film to MGM for only $250,000 in return for having veto over producer, director, screenwriter and cast, and swapped a salary in return for a percentage of the film’s profits.

So it became very much Katherine Hepburn’s film.

Key roles were soon pencilled in.

The film was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, directed by George Cukor and adapted for the screen by Donald Ogden Stewart. MGM also took the unusual step of casting two A-list male stars, Cary Grant and James Stewart, to support Hepburn.

The rest is history – upon release, the film broke the box-office record at Radio City Music Hall by taking $600,000 in just 6 weeks.

The film will be instantly recognizable to all of you who have enjoyed “High Society” over the years. There is no Louis Armstrong certainly, but Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra from the musical are all more than adequately covered by Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart in this film. The music gives way to a greater degree of brilliant dialogue and narrative.

“The Philadelphia Story” was nominated for no less than 6 Academy Awards – Outstanding Production, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Writing and Best Supporting Actress.

Donald Ogden Stewart won for Best Screenplay and James Stewart for Best Actor. James Stewart was not expecting to win and was not planning to attend the ceremony.

He was called and “advised” to show up in a dinner jacket. Stewart himself said he had voted for Henry Fonda for his performance in “The Grapes of Wrath”, and always felt the award had been given to him as compensation for not winning the year before for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Donald Ogden Stewart, on the other hand, declared upon winning HIS Oscar – “I have no-one to thank but myself!”.

“The Philadelphia Story” is filmed in black and white, runs for 112 minutes, and is rated PG.

This 76 year old film is highly recommended as part of film history.

Also recommended is membership of the Film Club itself. Including this week, 6 films remain to screen in the 2016 season – following are “Lucky Miles” (August), “Living is Easy with Eyes Closed” (September), “Magic in the Moonlight” (October), “Boyhood” (November) and the Presidents Pick (December) – 6 films for only $30.

Membership also includes the free hire of a number of NWTC Film Club films.

Membership can be processed at the Visitor Information Centre, or before the commencement of the film at the Roxy at 4pm this Sunday.

See you at the movies!