By Brad Laidman | November 28, 2001

“The time to make up your mind about people is never.”
This was the movie that saved Katherine Hepburn’s career. Essentially I’m pretty sure she got blackballed a bit by the industry for being too strong a women for anyone’s comfort. She owned the rights to this Broadway hit, which was written for her by Philip Barry, so Hollywood pretty much had to use her. Personally, I’ve always dug her. If for some odd reason she wanted to marry me, I’d say yes even today with her in her 80s. She’s the ultimate woman for people who aren’t afraid of what that means. She’s always headstrong, smart, and as pretty as anyone. She believes the right things, she says what she thinks, and she can hang out with the boys when the occasion calls for it. Of course, she has to be tamed a little by the time this movie ends, but what’s left is still so inspiring that you can overlook things a bit and chalk it up to the difficulties of surviving in a male dominated world.
You just can’t get around it. This is a weird and complicated movie. There’s this huge blackmail plot going on that everyone understands but nobody really admits. Like in His Girl Friday, which came out in the same year, Grant is back to reclaim his ex-wife on the eve of her marriage to a self important boob named George Kittredge (John Howard). Sadly enough for Howard, he manages to do worse than Ralph Bellamy ever did. By the time this is over, he isn’t even Hepburn’s second choice thanks to a spirited sharp tongued performance by Jimmy Stewart as the wild card. As Howard leaves rejected, he knows that Cary Grant has screwed him over he’s just not sure how.
Essentially, Grant’s C.K. Dexter Haven and Hepburn’s, this is not a joke, Tracy Lord, are a lot like Madonna and Sean Penn if they both came from old money. They are rich and a bit famous in a day where having money made you as famous as a movie star. She left him because he drank so much. He most likely drank so much because he couldn’t ever get her to loosen up, get off her high horse and have some fun. Tracy is a bit of an ivory tower ice queen. She’s a self righteous ball of fire and everyone who comes in contact with her falls in love with her. After all, she is Katherine Hepburn. Grant’s strategy in this movie is to show up for the wedding, look good, and act decent and reformed enough that Hepburn will come to her senses and realize that she should be with him.
The first scene in the movie shows them at their worst seconds before their divorce. She breaks one of his golf clubs and he almost hits her square in the face. Catching himself he merely pushes her to the ground by her face. It’s amazing what guys could get away with and still be the movie’s hero in those days. Of course, everyone else in Hepburn’s family prefers Cary Grant to Howard’s officiously nouveau riche Kittredge. After all, he’s Cary Grant. He smokes a pipe and still looks cool. In fact, the family seems to relish the thought that he might have smacked her in the face a few times especially Tracy’s over dramatic, but entertaining sister Diana played by Virginia Weidler. I’ve seen a lot of movies so you can take it from me whoever the kid likes usually winds up with the girl.
Jimmy Stewart plays Mike Conner. He’s a somewhat serious writer, who somehow gets stuck covering the wedding for Spy Magazine. He’s sarcastic, dissatisfied with his job and he hates rich people. Nevertheless, the second Hepburn surprises him and reads his book of short stories he becomes as smitten with her as everyone else is. So much for intellectuals and their ideals.
The night before the wedding the sober Tracy facing life with Howard falls off the wagon, gets drunk, and winds up kissing Jimmy Stewart a few times. Believe me the equally drunk Stewart’s love struck version of Somewhere over the Rainbow is unlikely to make you forget Judy Garland anytime soon.
Cary’s only problem with Hepburn appears to be her ridiculously high standards. Even her father calls her a prig. Then again Dad is a philanderer, who claims that his affair makes him feel young. At least in this movie that argument even seems to work on Mom, but then again it was the ’40s and these were rich people. Anyone who’s ever read about the Kennedy family should know that having a few affairs was considered colorful among the jet setters in those days.
If I read the movie right, Hepburn’s night of drunken fun with Jimmy humanizes her and makes her ready to finally enjoy herself with Cary Grant. Jimmy, humanized a bit himself, and nice enough to be the best man, gives his seal of approval to the coupling and order is restored to the Universe. Today I don’t think anyone really cares about the fact that this was intended to be a cunning class satire with a capital C, but it’s got big stars, they say cool things, they look good, it’s funny, and the right guy gets the right girl in amusing fashion. In the end, that’s still enough, but I sure would have liked to have seen Jimmy Stewart put up a bigger fight. The film seems to consign him Ruth Hussey merely because he has no money, no stature, and isn’t Cary Grant. Then again in real life he wouldn’t have even gotten as far as he did.

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