AFInity: The Philadelphia Story
By Kim Hollis
November 6, 2009
We're a list society. From Casey Kasem and the American Top 40 to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die to BOP's very own Best Horror Films (one of our most popular features ever), people love to talk about lists. They love to debate the merits of the "winners" and bemoan the exclusions, and start the whole process again when a new list captures pop culture fancy.
Perhaps one of the best-known, most widely discussed lists is the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies. A non-profit organization known for its efforts at film restoration and screen education, the AFI list of the 100 best American movies was chosen by 1,500 leaders in the movie industry and announced in its first version in 1998. Since then, the 100 Years... 100 Movies list has proven to be so popular that the AFI came forth with a 10th anniversary edition in 2007, along with other series such as 100 Heroes and Villains, 100 Musicals, 100 Laughs and 100 Thrills.
In addition to talking about which films are deserving of being on the list and bitterly shaking our fists because a beloved film was left out, we also love to brag about the number of movies we've seen. As I was looking over the 100 Years... 100 Movies list recently, I realized that I've seen 47 - less than half. As a lover of film and writer/editor for a movie site, this seemed like a wrong that needed to remedied. And so an idea was born. I would watch all 100 movies on the 2007 10th Anniversary list - some of them for the first time in as much as 20 or more years - and ponder their relevance, worthiness and influence on today's film industry. With luck, I'll even discover a few new favorites along the way.
#44: The Philadelphia Story
I love Jimmy Stewart. I love Katharine Hepburn. I love Cary Grant. Why, then, had I never seen The Philadelphia Story until it came time to watch it as part of the AFInity project? It's not something I have an easy answer to, but I'm glad that the oversight has now been remedied. A far from typical romantic comedy, it's a movie full of spirit, verve and intelligence, and I'm frankly lost in admiration.
From 1930 to 1968, the Motion Picture Production Code instilled a set of guidelines that movies from major U.S. studios were expected to follow. Once such tenet said, "Pictures shall not imply that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing." The sanctity of marriage was to be upheld, and such things as extramarital affairs were not to be explicit or "endorsed". Because of this section of code, a subgenre emerged, known as the "comedy of remarriage". This allowed the lead characters to divorce, flirt and play with strangers, and then ultimately get back together, all with no threat of censorship. Hepburn starred in at least four such films, and Grant was in five. Such subversion of the rules allows for some fascinating storytelling and character development, and sets up a plot that is surprising even by today's standards.