' ' Cinema Romantico: Ray of Light

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Ray of Light

Last year, on this very blog, I deemed Alfre Woodard in “Clemency” as perhaps the best movie drunk I have ever seen. I stand by that, though in recently re-watching “The Philadelphia Story” I was reminded that if there is a close second, a worthy challenger, if not a usurper, at least from a different angle, it is Jimmy Stewart. It happens midway through George Cukor’s 1940 classic, the night before Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is to be married to What’s-His-Face, the guy who doesn’t stand a chance, destined to lose out to C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant). Before that happens, though, spurring it along, in fact, Mike Connor (Stewart), the reporter tasked with concocting a story out of this whole marriage, deeply suspicious of the rich & famous, gets drunk and seeks out C.K. to hash out his feelings.

Mike Connor: “Are you still in love with her? Or perhaps you consider that to be a very personal question. Liz thinks you are! Liz thinks you are.” 

The wag of the finger up there, that’s Mike decreeing “Liz thinks you are!”, truly honoring that exclamation point, like he’s caught C.K. red-handed. But then instantly, Stewart downshifts, bringing his own disappointment about that development to the surface, almost seeming to say the second “Liz thinks you are” to himself.  

Mike Connor: “Although of course women like to roman..romanticize things a bit.”

The ellipsis denotes a drunken hiccup, which in the hands of most mortals would have been a stagy affectation but as emitted by Stewart really sounds like the bubbly just expanded his stomach. 

C.K. Dexter Haven: “Yes, they do, don’t they?”
Mike Connor: “Yes they do, don't they.”

The rhythm Stewart hits on repeating C.K.’s line is verbatim is perfect. I have a friend, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, who I’ve heard, when inebriated, do a version of that and, man, Stewart’s version is dead-on. I mean, dead-on. Granted, Stewart gets the perfect scene partner here in Grant, playing the tee-totaler to perfection with that kind of bemused air you get when suddenly confronted with a drunk person less menacing or violent than comical and a little too unaware of personal space. But Stewart is not just playing drunk to be funny.

If Woodard’s drunkenness in “Clemency” quietly gave away how her prison ward character was holding by the slightest of threads, in drunkenly pressing C.K. on his feelings about this ex-wife, the scene itself finds Mike admitting his brewing infatuation with Tracy. Science may be skeptical of drunkenness as a truth serum but this isn’t science, this is art, and Stewart’s intoxication really does seem to yield unwitting authenticity. 

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