Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Seen: On vhs on my tv, from my personal collection.

Adapted from the play of the same name and regarded as the film that brought Katharine Hepburn back into the spotlight, The Philadelphia Story has long been one of my favorite classic films. Hepburn stars as privileged socialite Tracy Lord, who is set to marry up-and-coming businessman George Kittredge (John Howard). Her ex-husband CK Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) invades her wedding party with two reporters- Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey)- posing as friends of her brother. Tracy's wayward father has been romancing a New York dancer and to keep that story under wraps, the gruesome editor of Spy Magazine wants all the details of her big day published. The days leading up to the wedding itself are rife with romantic intrigue and family squabbles as Tracy begins to doubt the decisions that led her to this point.

Riddled with sharp-tongued dialogue, memorable performances, and a strong dose of social satire, The Philadelphia Story is always fun to revisit even if the actual story is pretty simple. It helps that three of my favorite classic actors are pitted against each other in an enticing love triangle, trading insults and compliments equally while dressed to the nines. If I had to choose I'd say Jimmy Stewart is the standout, but then I do favor the man. His character is abrasive, pretentious, and a bit droll, and I love every minute of it. He's also got one of my favorite drunk scenes, bellowing "CK DEXTER HAVEN!" with that adorable drawl, it's just great. The unsung hero of the piece is actually Ruth Hussey, who is fabulous as put-upon photographer Liz. She's witty and sarcastic in the best way, and her character is probably the most sympathetic since she's the most realistic. She's got financial and personal problems but she's never self-pitying, rolling with the punches as the big personalities fight it out around her.

Of course, this is Katharine Hepburn's show, what with the play being written for her and everything, and she doesn't disappoint (has she ever?). Her Tracy Lord is fierce and dominant, with enviable posture and a heart hardened to the men who've disappointed her. She is not without a sense of humor, and hilariously throws Mike and Liz off guard with her over-the-top performance when they first arrive. Several of those close to her give speeches about how cold and "goddess-like" she is, which makes her feel distant and unloved, and actually I get a little frustrated with how Taming of the Shrew-y this gets at a few parts. I like Tracy's character a lot and am generally on her side, she's got high standards and there's nothing wrong with that since she should expect the best for herself and others. She's derided by her father and mother for not being more forgiving of his infidelity, which is bullshit, and it's weird that people seem to blame her coldness for their own weaknesses? Cary Grant thinks she's a jerk for not being nicer to him about his drinking, or something. I understand that alcoholism is a disease and people need love and support and whatnot, but he didn't seem like he was trying to get better so I'm pretty sure she was in the right.

Anyway, I do really love The Philadelphia Story. It's funny and wicked entertaining, and features cool people and fancy outfits galore. I have a few reservations with how Tracy's character is treated, but on the whole she's so strong and admirable that I can look past them.


Pair This Movie With: I usually want more Jimmy Stewart romance after this one, maybe The Shop Around the Corner or You Can't Take It With You.


  1. This film is adorable. Always liked it a lot.

    I've always found Cary Grant's performance to be really underrated. Yeah, I know, it's a typical Grant performance, but that scene shared between Grant and Hepburn in the car is probably one of the most beautiful, romantic scenes I've ever seen in any film. I don't think alcoholism is portrayed as a serious issue in this film. I've always assumed that Dexter is just annoyed by Tracy's control freak persona, down to how many drinks he could take. He probably just thought of himself as a grown man who didn't have to be bossed around by his wife.

    Love James Stewart and was kind of excited to watch him in his Oscar-winning role, but felt a little underwhelmed. He's fun, but is nowhere was fun as Grant, in my opinion.

    And yes, this is totally Hepburn's film. She's just so completely human her.

  2. Grant, Hepburn and Hussey made this picture for me. I didn't much like Stewart's character. Didn't know he won an Oscar for it. This film is in my top 100. Grant and Hepburn paired together is source for a great film (i.e. Bringing Up Baby <3 )

  3. wouldn't this film pair well with THE RULES OF THE GAME?