‘Mmmmm’ not ‘Hmmm’

Michael Wood

  • Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg
    Simon and Schuster, 318 pp, £18.99, July 2003, ISBN 0 7432 0676 2

There is something slightly wrong with the apparently impeccable Philadelphia Story. The film works so well for everyone – director, actors, audiences – that the flaw must be very slight, and perhaps even an advantage, a wrinkle that enhances the smoothness of the rest. But it’s there and it’s this. The heroine is bright, rich, funny, classy, but a little censorious – she can’t forgive her father’s philandering or her first husband’s drinking. The storyline is set up to show us and her that, deep down and in the end, she is just as human as the rest of us, flesh not bronze, as the movie’s imagery has it, a person not a goddess. ‘You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman,’ her erring father says, ‘except the one essential – an understanding heart.’ The understanding heart sounds a bit like the double standard in sexual affairs, but this is 1940. The heroine gets drunk and flings herself into the arms of a visiting reporter, a man who admires her in spite of her wealth and manners, not because of them. She may even have slept with him, for all she can remember, and her prospective second husband believes she has. The reporter says not, because there are rules about taking advantage of girls who have had too much champagne. He’s not a toff but he is a gent. It’s not clear what the first husband thinks has happened, only that he is delighted with the heroine’s lapse from sobriety and the mere chance that she may have lapsed from virtue, since they are what will bring her back to him in the end.

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