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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A movie custom-made to fit the personality of an arrogant but
headstrong movie star, a play with dialog that sizzles with so much
ferocity that it threatens to leap out the confines of its own frame,
performances that could not have and have not have been excelled ever
since, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is one of the best screwball comedies
ever made and the third to pair her with Cary Grant with whom she
worked so completely well. Hepburn had asked that Tracy and Gable be
her leading men but looking at this film, for all the chemistry that
Tracy and Hepburn ever had and all the talent Gable had for acting in
comedic farce, I can't imagine either of them playing any of the two
leading males that are after Tracy Lord's love. That Grant plays C. K.
Dexter "Dex" Haven so perfectly well, and his opening scene with
Hepburn is the stuff of movie history, only rectifies that. That
Stewart embodies the essence of MaCauley Connors as if he were in fact
the character just proves how strong an actor he was, and one who
didn't have to resort to extreme emoting to make his point. That the
three make for the most memorable romantic triangle in film history is
probably an understatement.
Of course the story is old. Of course the character motivations are dated. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY belongs perpetually in its own time, the late 1930s (when it was written and performed on stage), when sensibilities towards the rich were much different than they are today. The whole bit of the society princess being humbled to become a better person is really a thinly disguised fable that tells the story of how Hepburn, who had made such a powerful debut in film with her appearance in A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT, quickly established a personality so abrasive (she wouldn't do interviews or cheesecake, it is rare to find a Hepburn picture from the 30s where she is dolled up) that it translated into box-office bomb after bomb and by 1938 she was all but washed up. Tracy Lord's return to humankind is really the story of Hepburn's return to the world of acting even if she retained her abrasiveness to her last days. And of course, who better suited for this role than Hepburn herself, who had done the role on stage and by the time Hollywood came (reluctantly) calling -- they wanted Norma Shearer, who in my opinion could have carried it off but differently -- knew the part in and out (and owned the rights to the play in a shrewd move). We can't imagine anyone else playing this role, which is why when the inevitable musical remake was made in 1956 with Grace Kelly in the lead, it misfires, and no amount of Cole Porter could save it even if it was a commercial success.
But regardless being dated, maybe too talky for some, what a movie. To see the utter craziness of the plot which backfires at least twice and creates a sense of really not knowing what will happen next (even when we know on a certain level Hepburn and Grant will wind up in each other's arms) is the stuff romantic comedy is made of. Oscar nominated in almost every major category, it won two -- Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay -- but over the years it's grown beyond statuettes and remains as one of the greatest films of the 20th Century.
Katharine Hepburn, my favourite actress, gives the performance of her career
as Tracy Lord, a spoilt Philadelphia socialite. The movie is a triple treat,
with my other two most favourite actors, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, in
the other lead roles, Cary as Tracy's former husband C.K Dexter Haven, and
Jimmy as the peeved reporter who Kate falls in love with.
Although there has been much written about Jimmy Stewart not deserving the Oscar that year, if it was given for the Academy passing over his performance in "Mr Smith Goes to Washington", then it was well deserved. Cary Grant deserved a nomination, and Kate definitely should have taken out the prize for the year. I could be going to extremes, but I think this was definitely the movie that deserved to take home the statuette for Best Picture of 1940. I have seen both "Rebecca" and "The Grapes of Wrath", movies highly acclaimed that year, but neither has ever come close to "The Philadelphia Story".
The first time I watched it I missed not only most of the witty one-liners, but the whole point of the story. It was the first movie I watched with each of the three stars. Almost a year later after I viewed it again I couldn't believe how I could have passed over such a rare gem.
As a fourteen year old, I can't be pretentious in definitely knowing the real themes of the movie. Maybe something in the way of humility and degrees of acceptance, I'm not so sure. I have thought about it a lot, but have only reached the conclusion that it is one of those 'feel good' movies that is re-watchable. There are things about it, even close to my tenth viewing, that I am still picking up on.
Lead by Ruth Hussey and Virginia Weidler, the supporting cast of "The Philadelphia Story" is one of the finest I have seen.
With Cole Porter songs, and yet another star cast, this movie was shockingly remade into the musical "High Society" in 1956. On all accounts, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm cannot match the sophistication and wit of the non-musical cast. It seemed too much like recycled humour, despite its attempts to modernize an immortal story.
This movie is a slice of Old Hollywood that must not be sampled once to enjoy it. It should be taken in many times!
That this brilliant story originated on stage is obvious. The stage
requires personas of epic and electric beauty. Philadelphia Story boasts
three of the brightest stars that ever burned to occupy these personas,
which they do with miraculous luminance.
The play, of course, was written for Hepburn by Phillip Barry, and after over 400 performances on Broadway she cleverly bought the film rights right out from under the noses of Hollywood moguls who fancied themselves smarter than Dear Kate. This came at a time when Hepburn was tops on the list of stars who had been labeled box office poison by producers.
The dynamics between the stars are legendary. Finer actors never lived, and these are the performances of a lifetime for each of them. Stewart is funny, smoldering, passionate and moving and he has moments, many of them, of stunning brilliance in each of those emotions. Grant is his typical stilted and elegant self, funny, gracious, urbane and, yes, beautiful. And then there is Hepburn. She is breathtaking to look at, and she plays your heart strings in a masterful glissando plucking at every emotion as she moves effortlessly across her entire unmatched range.
The supporting cast is worthy of the surplus of talent that surrounds them, and offer a few unforgettable moments of their own. And the presence of George Cukor, the greatest director of women in history, and the best director of Hepburn as well, coaxes every brilliant word of the script to its full potential.
You must not miss this treasure simply because it is from another era. It depicts that era with insight and irreverence that expose it, and the rarified world of old Philadelphia Money (yes, with a capital "M") like few films of its time, or any time, could. Every time I watch this movie, and the frequency would embarrass me if I were honest about it, I love it more.
Watch it. Study it. Assimilate every second of it and your understanding and appreciation of cinema will be enriched for it. And you'll have a great time doing it!
They say "the idle rich is the devil's playground." Well, never has the
playground been more playful or fun than in "The Philadelphia Story." It's
so gratifying to know that vintage movies like "The Philadelphia Story" will
outlive us all. Playwright Phillip Barry certainly had an ear for
sophisticated chatter and, along with "Bringing Up Baby" and "Holiday," he
singlehandedly defined the term "screwball comedy" in the late 30s. And so
it is fortunate for all of us that the screen adaptations of each of these
classic Broadway plays are classics in their own right.
Katharine Hepburn, who starred with Cary Grant in all three of the aforementioned films, plays society prig Tracy Lord, a spoiled, temperamental rich girl who owns a will of iron and a heart to match. What she wants more than life itself is to experience true love like a down-to-earth REAL person, but is she capable of it? A stormy first marriage to C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) has not taken the wind out of her sails, so she decides to make a go of it again. Announcing her forthcoming marriage to wealthy George Kittredge, a rather staid, uptight sort, it comes off more like a match made in gold than in heaven. However, the stubborn Tracy is convinced she is in love this time.
Around to disrupt the wedding plans is Tracy's former husband, who still has feelings for her and her family, her estranged scandal-ridden father, her young, precocious sister, and a posterior-pinching uncle. Also hovering around the Lord estate is tabloid reporter Liz Imbrie and her photographer Mike Connor, assigned to cover the impending nuptials and, of course, scout out any juicy gossip.
With a deft ensemble and crisp, intuitive direction (George Cukor), the dialogue blisters with furious fun (courtesy of Oscar-winning scripter Donald Ogden Stewart), with every character having his or her chance to bask in the limelight. Hepburn, who was considered "box-office poison" at the time, revitalized her Hollywood career with "The Philadelphia Story," smartly buying the film rights to ensure her starring role. Dripping with frilly-edged sarcasm, she makes full use of her clipped Bryn Mawr speech tones. But her ultimate triumph is that her 'ice queen' demeanor never alienates the viewer. We still root for Tracy to come down to earth, rejoin the human race and live out that fairy tale ending. Cary Grant is as smooth as silk pajamas as Tracy's first husband, raring and ready to pull her off that mighty pedestal she's placed herself so high on. Synonymous with elegance and style, I doubt there is another actor who can handle martini-dry banter the way he does. He is flawless -- in a class by himself.
The real revelation, however, is Jimmy Stewart as the smitten photographer who is only too willing to keep Tracy perched on that pedestal. Stewart, who won the Oscar, breaks from his usual "aw shucks" mode to show a surprising comic range. His midnight poolside soliloquy with Kate is wondrous and lingers long after the closing credits. Completing the romantic quadrangle is the wonderful Ruth Hussey, who inherits the wisecracking Eve Arden role, the good-natured trooper who always seems to come in second man-wise. Hussey takes the ball and runs with it, giving the ripest performance of the bunch.
Additional praise must be given to Mary Nash, as Tracy's flowery, meticulous mother; young tomboy Virginia Weidler, an adroit little scenestealer, for keeping up with the big folks and offering a wickedly smart-assed rendition of "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady"; John Howard for his dour, stuffy groom-to-be and good sportsmanship as the butt of many a joke; John Halliday, who manages a couple of razor-sharp scenes as Hepburn's reproaching father, and Roland Young, who played Cosmo Topper in the delightful "Topper" film series, for adding his typical brand of bemused merriment as lecherous Uncle Willy.
From the opening classic bit with Hepburn and Grant squaring off to the church altar denouement, "The Philadelphia Story" provides a wealth of entertainment. It's a rare, rich package even the Lord family can't buy!
Firstly, let me say, that I love Kate Hepburn. She's my favourite actress,
and in my opinion, she can do no wrong. For this reason, I'd probably give a
good rating to every movie she made.
But 'The Philadelphia Story' really does deserve wonderful praise. It's by far the most sophisticated, and in my opinion, the greatest comedy ever made, one of Kate's greatest roles. She's absolutely hilarious as Tracy Lord, bringing perfection to the role she created on the stage a year before the film, mocking, insulting and making fun out of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant.
Her drunken scene with Stewart is pure magic and her mockery of him ('dear professor') is wonderful.
Grant and Stewart are fabulous, Stewart as the rough and tumble reporter infatuated with Tracy and Grant as the neglected ex- husband.
Ruth Hussey and Virginia Weidler are fantastic in supporting roles, and really add to the hilarity of the whole picture.
A funny, bouyant ride through the 1940's- I completely recommend it!
After Katharine Hepburn was one of a group of stars dictated "box
office poison" by the ruling moguls of Hollywood she went east and
scored a complete triumph on stage with The Philadelphia Story. But our
Kate was the shrewd one, she had the foresight to buy the film rights
from author Philip Barry and peddle them to the studio that would
guarantee her repeating her stage role and giving her creative control.
On stage she had co-starred with Joseph Cotten, Van Heflin, and Shirley Booth all of whom became movie names later on, but meant nothing to Hollywood in 1940. She had the choice of leading men and cast in their places, Cary Grant, James Stewart and Ruth Hussey.
This was Grant's fourth and final appearance on screen with Hepburn. It's a typical Cary Grant part, witty and urbane, with a touch of the rogue in him. He's Hepburn's ex-husband, still very much in love with his ex-wife, but she's marrying stuffed shirt John Howard.
Reporter James Stewart and photographer Ruth Hussey are covering Hepburn's wedding for Spy Magazine, the National Enquirer of the day. Through a little judicious blackmail they're invited to this premier society wedding, but both feel out of place and used.
After The Philadelphia Story, Katharine Hepburn was a movie name the rest of her long life. Even with an occasional clinker no one ever questioned her about being box office poison.
James Stewart won the Best Actor Oscar in probably the most romantic he was ever on the screen. A lot felt it was a consolation Oscar for not winning it for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939. Stewart himself proclaimed to all who'd listen that he voted for good friend Henry Fonda in the Academy Sweepstakes for The Grapes of Wrath. I've always felt that when Stewart talked about those hearth fires banked down low to Hepburn, he was really talking about himself. He's a cynical fellow at first and his romantic side comes as a surprise to him more than even the audience.
The Philadelphia Story has become such a classic that even the musical remake High Society doesn't try to copy it, it just presents a softer musical alternative. But I'd kind of liked to have seen Hepburn do this with her original cast as well. Oscars were in the future for Van Heflin and Shirley Booth and Joseph Cotten the following year made his debut in the biggest film of all.
This is a delightful romantic comedy about the life and loves of a high
society girl. Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is about to be married to
George Kittredge (John Howard), a self made man who elevated himself from
the lower class. The wedding is supposed to be a private affair, but
Tracy's ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) blackmails her into
letting two reporters, Macaulay Conner and Elizabeth Imbrie (James Stewart
and Ruth Hussey) cover the event. What ensues is a screwball courtship for
the heart of Tracy as everyone falls in love with her at
Director David Cukor (`Little Women', `My Fair Lady') provides a fast paced comedy with rapid-fire repartee and fosters a bubbly chemistry between the cast members, which brims with laughs. Cukor received one of his five Oscar nominations for this film and it was well deserved.
Katharine Hepburn is marvelous as the blueblood bride to be. She is a well-grounded girl who is not beyond putting on airs for show. She is simultaneously sassy and dreamy and her comic timing is superb earning her one of twelve nominations for best actress. Despite a star's billing, Cary Grant plays a supporting role as the sarcastic Dexter Haven. With his deadpan delivery, he provides the perfect foil to Hepburn and Stewart.
Even with the luminous cast, Jimmy Stewart steals the show with a comedic tour de force. His inebriated scene with Cary Grant is uproariously funny and his puppy dog wooing of Katherine Hepburn is enchanting. It is hard to believe that James Stewart only won one Oscar in his outstanding career. Though nominated five times, the only role for which he won the statue is this one, a performance that is unquestionably among his best.
This tremendous comedy brings together three screen legends at the peak of their careers. It was nominated for six Academy Awards winning two, and it was rated #51 on AFI's top 100 of the century. It is a timeless classic that is sure to please. I rated it a 10/10. See it and enjoy.
My Rating: ***1/2 out of ****.
The Philadelphia Story is one of the earlier Romantic Comedies. It is also one of the best. This film basically has what most romantic comedies today dont have. That would be a well-written script, Great Acting, and actually funny.
The acting is a huge strength in the film. This is called Katharine Hepburn's best role by many, while I admit she is excellent in a number of scenes, I think she tends to overact at times. Cary Grant is great here. Everyone else is Great but I believe James Stewart to be the standout. He is perfect for this role, its a flawless performance, that he deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar for.
The Script has wonderful dialogue thats delivered flawlessly by the actors. Even simple dialogue like "Isn't that awful" was delivered superbly by Katharine Hepburn. George Cukor made this project look like nothing, he made many films which were "womens films" but he does a damn good job here.
If you think Romantic Comedies of today are good, look at The Philadelphia Story and they will pale in comparison. The Philadelphia Story is a very good film and worth remembering, unlike the mediocre to crappy romantic comedies of today. The Philadelphia Story is highly recommended.
The excellent play by Phillip Barry, is the basis for the delightful
transfer to the screen. The choice of George Cukor as its director
seems to have been made in heaven. Indeed, Mr. Cukor clearly understood
what was needed to make this film the classic it became. George Cukor's
contribution, as well of the magnificent screenplay, by Donald Ogden
Stewart, make this a timeless comedy that looks as fresh today as when
it was originally released.
It helps tremendously that Katherine Hepburn had played Tracy Lord on the stage and knew what made her tick. Ms. Hepburn, an actress of enormous talent, is the embodiment of this society woman. Katherine Hepburn clearly understood her character. Having come herself from a privileged family, she was able to get deep inside her character. Tracy Lord is going to be married to George Kitteredge, a man from her own social circle. Deep down inside, Tracy can't get her mind from the man she really loves, the rascal Dexler.
The casting of Cary Grant as C.K. Dexler was a touch of genius. Mr. Grant had played opposite Ms. Hepburn before. He was an actor that always delivered and was always a welcome addition to any of the movies of the period. Mr. Grant, with his good looks, makes the perfect man to play the part. As Dexler, the man who broke Tracy's heart, he returns just before the wedding, perhaps to remind her he's still loves her and can't get her out of his mind.
James Stewart was the other happy casting of "The Philadelphia Story". He was relatively unknown to the movie going public, but he left his mark all over the picture. As McCauley (Mike) Conner, this actor was perfect. As the tabloid reporter infiltrating the society wedding he proved his impeccable sense of timing.
Ruth Hussey, contributes to the film in unexpected ways. Virginia Weidler, as Dinah, is irresistible. The rest of the ensemble cast is a director's dream. Mary Nash, John Howard, Roland Young, John Halliday, Henry Daniel and the rest, are perfect.
"The Philadelphia Story" will keep delighting audiences for many years to come.
It is the wedding of the year with socialite Tracy Lord due to marry
George Kittredge behind closed doors, with no press allowed. However
the editor of Spy Magazine is set to run an exposé of Tracy's
philandering father and a New York dancer and strikes a deal with her
ex husband CK Dexter Haven if he can get a couple of journalists into
the wedding and the reception. Keen to get back at Tracy, Dexter agrees
to help and escorts writer Mike Conner and photographer Liz Imbrie into
the Lord home in the days before the wedding. With tensions high
between Dexter and Tracy, everyone playing games and relationships
equally confused and confusing anything could happen and surprises are
Shot in about 8 weeks with a low number of takes and some impressive adlibbed and one-shot scenes this is a movie worth seeing even before you look at the cast list and the professional reviews. The plot is partly a comedy, partly a character drama and partly a romance (albeit a rather tidy one) and each aspect pretty much works in tandem with the others. The comic tension between the characters is really well written and, although it is a cliché, it does fizz and spark across the screen and is regularly hilarious and consistently a delight to the ears. With such superficial energy it would be easy to ignore the fact that it is interesting below this; specifically I liked the character of Tracy and the way that parts of the film show her character being stripped back as she in particular learns something about how she comes across, softening her character a little bit in later scenes. However to suggest that this has great depths is to give it more praise than it deserves, because it doesn't run deep and it isn't a great drama. Likewise the romance isn't a main part of it but it does still work because it is all delivered at such a fresh and funny pace that it draws you in, even to the point where I gratefully accepted the film's conclusion with a smile rather than a sneer.
The cast are a delight, but then that pretty much goes without saying, and they work with the dialogue like a surgeon uses a scalpel. In fact that is a good example because the dialogue is normally almost as sharp as said instrument. Grant may have got top billing and the big money (which he then donated away) but it is very much a shared effort between the three stars, with Grant in fact having the least showy character. If anything the film belongs to Hepburn who is a delight whether spitting back at her father with tears in her eyes or a barbed comment sliding in like a greased knife. Stewart is just as good and is reaction shots show a real comic timing, but he also gives good dialogue and he is fun. Like Stewart, Grant has a great chemistry with Hepburn, which means that he can deliver convincing tension and trade insults without undermining the ending which otherwise would have maybe been an ask too far. Hussey is good and it is easy to forget that she must have felt a bit out of her depth but it never shows in her performance. Support is roundly strong from Young, Nash, Halliday and even Weildler.
Overall this is a delightful film that is such fun and has such a good pace and spark that it is easy to buy into the weaker elements of the narrative and not only forgive them but get into them. The dialogue is sparky and funny while the delivery of same is just what the material deserved. The cast have chemistry and help inject urgency to the story that keeps it all moving forward. A wonderfully delightful film that is fun to watch and surprisingly engaging.
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