Cukor also allowed Hepburn’s character to have sexual tension with those played by Grant and Stewart. “It’s a double love story,” says McGilligan. “There’s the one between Hepburn and Grant, which is over but simmering below the surface, and the one between Hepburn and Stewart, which is making its way into history.” This meant audiences weren’t sure who Hepburn’s character would end up with. “The viewer is probably torn between who should have Hepburn, just as she is torn. As Cary Grant is probably Hollywood’s all-time romantic icon – Stewart least – he’s the frontrunner. But his devious ways to win her back makes the audience guess until the end of the surprise. “
This element of intrigue and surprise would be replicated on many other romantic comedies for decades to come. From Casablanca to Sabrina, via Broadcast News, Clueless, 500 Days Of Summer, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and especially It’s Complicated and Something’s Gotta Give by Nancy Meyers.
But the influence of Cukor and The Philadelphia Story doesn’t stop there. It set the standards for “taste and intelligence,” says McGilligan, who believes Cukor subverted gender and its tropes, especially when it came to how male and female characters were portrayed. “Cukor himself was gay. What makes his films unique is that he portrays his own ideas about romance and love through the prism of this genre, using strong women (like Hepburn) as alter ego and by making men (like Cary Grant) less absurdly masculine, in various ways. ” So while the genre of The Philadelphia Story may be the subject of some debate, what is certain is that it was decades ahead of its time.
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