13 November 2010

37. The Philadelphia Story

It's a screwball comedy, so there will be witty banter, there will be simple characters in battles of will, there will be complications of all kinds, most especially in love.

In a dialogue-free scene, we see a rich, spoiled Katherine Hepburn kicking out her husband, Cary Grant. The set-up gives us everything: later we see her debating whether or not to get married to the next man, who she clearly doesn't fit with. Jimmy Stewart and his photog sidekick are set to cover the story for the society pages, and Cary Grant comes along to get in the mix and try to win Hepburn back. Guess how it all works out?

Like I said: complications. Hepburn, who never gets drunk, gets drunk. She hooks up with Stewart. Grant blackmails Hepburn. A mix-up -- who is the uncle and who the father? Grant writes Stewart's story. Stewart proposes, she dismisses, takes Grant in the end.

The reason the writing works so well, besides the crackling dialogue, is that it depicts a high-class society life that many wish they were able to live, and it structures the story, all the way to the absolute end, making the audience wonder what will happen next. This is the screenwriter's primary concern: always keep them guessing.