The Philadelphia Story

1940 movie

If you haven’t seen it:

philadelphia-story-poster.jpgThe Philadelphia Story has got nothing at all to do with dying lawyers fighting corporate discrimination (that was Philadelphia) nor does it have anything to do with invisible battleships and time travelling sailors (that was The Philadelphia Experiment).

No, this is the one where the ex-husband, a reporter, and a photographer turn up at a wealthy woman’s mansion to try to stop her marrying the wrong man.

The Philadelphia Story is a comedy talkfest that is now a little dated, and takes itself too seriously at times, but is worth watching for the three leads, the Hollywood superstars Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and James Stewart. They all give it everything they have, and deliver a classic Hollywood comedy romance.


If you have seen it:

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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.


Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is a wealthy Philadelphia socialite. Two years after divorcing her first husband, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), she is about to marry coal-mining executive George Kittredge.


The Wedding Crashers

Tabloid magazine publisher Sidney Kidd is eager to cover the wedding. He blackmails Dexter into introducing the reporter Mike Connor (James Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie to the bride-to-be as friends of the family so that they can report on the wedding. Tracy is not fooled, but she reluctantly agrees to let them stay when Dexter explains about the blackmail – Kidd knows about a scandal involving the womanising ways of Tracy’s estranged father.

Tracy soon learns that Mike has many fine qualities. And, as the wedding grows nearer, she finds herself torn between her fiancé, her ex-husband, and the reporter.


Stephen Hawking – the Champagne Years

The night before the wedding, Tracy has too much to drink and kisses Mike. Then they go for a swim together. When George sees Mike carrying an intoxicated Tracy into the house afterwards, he assumes the worst. The next day, he demands an explanation before going ahead with the wedding. Tracy, who has been having doubts already, uses this lack of trust as an excuse, and breaks off the engagement. Meanwhile all the guests have arrived and are waiting for the ceremony to begin. Mike volunteers to marry her, but Tracy graciously declines. When Dexter makes the same offer however, she accepts.

Steve Sunday Says:

The Philadelphia Story is another one of those classic movies that is adored by its fans. I feel it is very much a product of its time though – the importance of class is not something we worry about so much any more. It also casually features a few things that are frowned upon in society now – domestic violence, drunk driving, and “shushing” in libraries. The worst thing for me though, was the film’s message that women should not be so strong and independent, because men do not like it. At one point Tracy’s womanising father sagely tells her that the failure of his own marriage was her fault because she was not a sweet enough child. It is so wrong.


He suspected she had deliberately misinterpreted his request to “play around”

The movie begins with some slapstick (including an act involving a golf-club that would have caused serious injury if performed with modern equipment), but this is misleading as it is not really that sort of film. It is a very talky film based on a Broadway play, and actually that first scene was not in the play – it was added by the director to give the audience a little background.

I did enjoy watching the three superstars – Cary Grant was suave and smooth as usual, James Stewart seemed to be having great fun with his role, and there is no-one like Katharine Hepburn (except that woman in Star Trek Voyager who is almost exactly like her).

The bit that made me laugh the most was when the normally unflappable Tracy comes out of the house the morning after the night before, and she reacts to the sunlight just like Nosferatu would, short of bursting into flames.

Trivia Trish Says:

  • The Philadelphia Story was Hepburn’s comeback movie after a string of flops. She had starred in the Broadway play, which had been written specially for her. She purchased the film rights (with the help of Howard Hughes), chose her co-stars (although first choices Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy were unavailable) and the film was a smash hit.
  • Cary Grant demanded top billing and huge salary. He donated his salary to the British war Relief Fund.
  • James Stewart won the best actor Oscar for this film. He always said he never felt he deserved it, and that Henry Fonda should have won it for The Grapes of Wrath. He believed that the reason he was given it was because he had not won for Mr Smith goes to Washington.

“RAAAAARGH! Giant woman smash!”

Main Cast and Crew:

C.K. Dexter Haven – Cary Grant
Tracy Lord – Katharine Hepburn
Macauley Connor – James Stewart