Why I love The Philadelphia Story (1940)

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The privileged class enjoying its privileges, as Mike Connor (James Stewart in an Oscar-winning role) puts it. And why not? The Philadelphia Story is high society at its best. Or is it worst? Either way, it’s marvellous to watch as the cracks start to show. Everything from failed marriages, to infidelities, to excessive drinking… all with a touch of class and humor that will make you want to reach for the champagne. This is the greatest romantic comedy of all time, in my opinion.

Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is about to marry George Kittredge (John Howard), when her ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) shows up unannounced the day before, with reporter Mike Connor and photographer Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) – pretending to be Tracy’s brother’s friends – sent there by Spy Magazine, who want to get the scoop on the wedding. Chaos, naturally, ensues.

We all that George Cukor was the greatest director of actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He knew how to get the best performances out of his actors and he knew how to let them shine. And The Philadelphia Story is probably the greatest testament to this. Full of wonderful performances, from Hepburn’s haughty, spoiled rich woman with a heart, to Virginie Weidler’s Dinah, the sister, who might just be one of the funniest characters ever. For some reason, this hardly ever comes up under ‘ensemble cast movies’, maybe because there are three well-defined leads, but by golly, isn’t it just a wonder to watch all those people interact with each other? I mean, they had such phenomenal chemistry, all of them, including Cary Grant and Ruth Hussey, in the regrettably few scenes they have together – particularly the scene when they talk about Mike (‘Why don’t you marry him?’). A lovely moment and one that shows that The Philadelphia Story has a heart too, on top of being hilarious. And that’s one of the things I love about it. Those little moments. Like Tracy and Dexter’s conversation on the morning of the wedding (I’m such an unholy mess of a girl’). Such a tender moment.

Of course, one of the things everybody talks about when it comes to The Philadelphia Story is that ridiculously great (and Oscar-winning) script by Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by Phillip Barry. Nearly every line is dripping with wit and class and I’d say it’s probably in top 10 most quotable films of all time. I myself am still trying to work ‘Hello Dexter, hello George, hello Mike’ into a casual conversation. Not easy.

The Philadelphia Story has been my ultimate desert island movie for about ten years. It is always the first one that comes to mind when that question comes up. I guess it’s because it’s got everything. It’s got three of my favorite people of all time, it’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s sophisticated (is soph-com a thing? If not, it should be), and it’s comforting. Like a warm blanket. Let’s raise a glass to The Philadelphia Story!

12 thoughts on “Why I love The Philadelphia Story (1940)

  1. Enjoyed the post! Like you and many others, I have much fondness for this film. And Cukor deserved the Directing Oscar for it.

    Over time, I have shifted to prefer Holiday, made in 1938 with Grant and Hepburn, directed by Cukor, and screenplay by D Ogden Stewart. It’s gentler, has moments of queerness, and doesn’t involve the excoriation of Hepburn-as-Tracy Lord. Both films are endearing and full of great stars, drama, and humor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike

    Nice summary Carol. It definitely is a classic. You’re right about it never being mentioned for it’s ensemble and right about the reason- 3 star leads. This is one film you covered that I️ don’t have to order from my library for a first see😊. Btw, just finished the new book about the friendship between Stewart and Fonda -,a nice read.

    Liked by 1 person

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