The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story The Comedy of Remarriage

Film critic Stanley Cavell coined the subgenre "comedy of remarriage" to account for the trend in Hollywood comedies of the 1930s and 1940s to focus on stories of divorced couples coming back together and giving it a second go. In his book Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, he suggests that the subgenera is perhaps one of Hollywood's greatest achievements. Among some of the most famous comedies of remarriage are It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Lady Eve, Adam's Rib, and The Philadelphia Story.

There are a number of theories as to why this particular kind of comedy was so popular in the early-middle part of the 20th century. The practical answer to why it came about has to do with the development of the Hays Code, which dictated that explicit references to extramarital affairs and sexuality be removed from all films. In an effort to sidestep censorship, theorists posit, filmmakers began making films in which characters divorced, engaged in some extramarital shenanigans that, because of the characters' previous married status, was seen as less taboo, and then came back together in the final act. Thus, in many ways, the comedy of remarriage was partly born out of the necessity to include juicy plot lines without getting in trouble with the puritanical censors.

Another account says that the development of the subgenre has to do with evolving and contradictory views of gender and marriage. In her essay "Different, Except in a Different Way: Marriage, Divorce, and Gender in the Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage," Heather Gilmour writes, "The contradictions that inhere in the comedies of remarriage spoke eloquently to a nation that hadn't reached any consensus about the status of gender in society, or the proper way to approach marriage." Indeed, the genre suggests a generalized confusion and curiosity about how modern marriage would take shape.