October 15, 2007

Smackdown 1940: Ruth Hussey, The Philadelphia Story

Well, let's start with the blasphemy: This is a long, boring, stagey movie, populated not with characters, but with banter-dispensing machines. And sad to say, Ruth Hussey suffers the most from its flaws.

Hussey plays photographer Liz Imbrie; fifteen or twenty years later, this would have been an Eve Arden role. Liz is the wise-cracking cynic who is, way down deep, a secret romantic at heart. She's got an endless supply of one-liners, and she's the one who actually understands what everyone's really thinking.

And in most movies, that character is a lot of fun -- but only if there's only one of her. Unfortunately, everyone in this damned movie is Eve Arden. They're all hurling crisp punchlines back and forth so fast* that there's no time for any character or relationship to be developed.

(*Well, fast for the era, I suppose; we've learned to process dialogue faster in the ensuing 67 years, and what was then zippy repartee is now plodding and lethargic.)

Take, for instance, the moment at the end of the movie when Liz's fiancee (Jimmy Stewart) proposes to Katharine Hepburn with Liz standing just inches away. That should be a terribly painful moment, but we feel no sorrow or embarrassment for Liz at all; hell, she doesn't seem to feel anything. It's just another opportunity to toss off a clever quip.

Oh, the jokes are delivered sharply enough, and Hussey looks marvelous in her fabulous pantsuits, but she's never given a character to play. Like all of the other actors in this movie, she's left to drown in an endless sea of bons mots.

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