The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Stewart gets Lessons in High Society from Grant and Hepburn
Doggone it, C.K. Dexter Haven. Either I'm gonna sock you or you're gonna sock me - Macaulay Connor
What can you say about a movie which regularly features in the top half of almost every important top 100 movie list other than it is great. "The Philadelphia Story" is without a doubt a brilliant movie a 5 out of 5 which despite now 70 years old is still such a joy, such a pleasure to watch every single time. From the storyline, the comedy, the music and the award winning performances of Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant it all works perfectly.
Two years after her impetuous marriage to C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant - My Favorite Wife) ended, Philadelphia socialite Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn - Holiday) is preparing to marry nouveau riche businessman George Kittredge (John Howard) who absolutely adores the bossy Tracy. But the day before their wedding Haven shows up at the Lord mansion with supposed friends of her brothers, Macaulay Connor (James Stewart - Destry Rides Again) and Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) who in fact are reporters with Haven agreeing to sneak them in so that Spy magazine can get the story of her wedding. But will the wedding go ahead?
As with any movie from the golden era there has been plenty written about the sub context of the storyline, the risque and daring nature as it insinuates but never shows that one of the characters has an alcohol problem and that in this day and age the references to keeping your woman in check are sexist. But let's be honest it's not the sub context which makes "The Philadelphia Story" so popular rather than the plain simple truth that the storyline is entertaining. And to put it simply "The Philadelphia Story" is a romantic comedy about a woman about to get married but finds herself with two further possible suitors, an ex husband and a journalist.
Although the idea is simple it is dressed up by the fact that initially the journalist, Macaulay Connor, is at her wedding under pretence, the ex husband is on the scene under the pretence that he is trying to stop some malicious gossip ruining his ex wife's big day. And then there is the husband to be, the handsome suitor who has built himself up from nothing to being rich and as such not quite in fitting with his wife's long term wealthy ways. It makes "The Philadelphia Story" a movie which bounces between these various characters all interlinked by Tracy Lord.
And whilst the storyline bounces between these various characters it plies you with comedy. Much of the comedy comes from the rapid witty banter the to and thro's between Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant but also Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart. As such there is barely a dull moment, as either Hepburn's shaky voice delivers some funny line or Grant's smooth tones fire one back and in between you have Stewart delivering one liners with a sense of 'chip on the shoulder' antagonism. But it's not all wordy comedy as scenes such as Tracy and Macauley drunkenly fooling about are priceless as are those which feature the repercussions.
But whilst all of this is going on it delivers a clever romantic element none more so in those drunken scenes between Hepburn and Stewart. It is beautifully crafted so the urge to kiss is always there but just as they are about to kiss one recoils, it keeps you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of when it will finally happen. And that is just one moment in a movie which is packed full of these beautiful crafted romantic scenes. As such credit goes to director George Cukor who manages to bring these romantic moments with out them becoming too cliche and obvious, always playing in harmony with the mischievous comedy.
Whilst Cukor crafts a beautiful movie it is the main trio of stars, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant, which make it all work. Hepburn who had also starred in the stage version, which is said is based on Hepburn herself, is brilliant as Tracy Lord. That nervy, shaky voice is perfect for delivering so much comedy yet Hepburn delivers that character in control so brilliantly, especially when she loses control having got drunk. Opposite her is James Stewart who although may be seen as playing yet another reporter role delivers the chip on the shoulder element brilliantly. And then finishing this off is the always smooth Cary Grant as ex husband C.K. Dexter Haven. It is the way that these 3 stars just bounce off each other which makes it work so well.
What makes "The Philadelphia Story" so brilliant is that whilst Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant are the main characters, those in the supporting roles deliver equally brilliant performances. From John Howard and Mary Nash through to Virginia Weidler as Dinah Lord not a single one of these actors puts in a duff performance.
What this all boils down to is that despite being 70 years old "The Philadelphia Story" is still a great movie and rightly featured on so many lists of the top 100 movies. Everything about it from the storyline, the direction, comedy and performances works. But it is the trio of stars, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant, which help take it to the next level and it is their wonderful performances which makes it all so memorable.
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