The Philadelphia Story (1940) – B&W
Running time: 112 minutes (1 hour, 52 minutes)
DIRECTOR: George Cukor
WRITER: Donald Ogden Stewart (based upon the play by Philip Barry)
PRODUCER: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Joseph Ruttenberg (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Frank Sullivan
COMPOSER: Franz Waxman
Academy Award winner
Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young, John Halliday, Mary Nash, Virginia Weidler, and Henry Daniell
The subject of this movie review is The Philadelphia Story, a 1940 romantic comedy from director George Cukor. The film is an adaptation of the 1939 Broadway comic play, The Philadelphia Story, written by Philip Barry. The film’s screenplay was written by Donald Ogden Stewart and Waldo Salt, although Salt did not receive credit. Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, the movie focuses on a rich woman whose wedding plans get complicated when her ex-husband and a tabloid reporter show up. Jimmy Stewart won his only Oscar for his performance in this film.
Socialite Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) prepares to marry again, but this time to, George Kittredge (John Howard), a politician who is not in her social class. Her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), has other ideas and plans on crashing the wedding. He invites himself to the Lord’s family estate in north Philadelphia, bringing along tabloid reporter, Macaulay Connor (James Stewart, who won his first Oscar for this role), and Macaulay’s photographer, Elizabeth “Liz” Imbrie (Ruth Hussey), both of whom are hoping to get the goods on the social event of the year. It is a news story their boss, Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell), plans to call “The Philadelphia Story.” However, Haven’s machinations have some expected and not-at-all expected results.
Many movie fans and film critics consider The Philadelphia Story to be one of the most exhilarating screwball romantic comedies ever. Much credit goes to the incomparable romantic triangle of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart (although Hepburn had originally hoped to play alongside Clark Gable and Spencer Tracey). Philip Barry, who wrote the play upon which this film is based, also modeled his original Tracy Lord on Hepburn, so everything worked well from the standpoint of Hepburn’s character. Grant and Stewart were also great movie actors who mastered dialogue; fully capable of being witty (especially Grant) and verbose, necessities as the film is dialogue heavy.
The witty dialogue isn’t just for show. It establishes much of the film’s plot, as well as its setting, characters, and its principles and philosophy of relationships – a credit to screenwriter, Donald Ogden Stewart (and Waldo Salt who worked on the script but did not receive a screen credit). The viewer could get a buzz or a high just from listening to all that snappy batter and all those sharp comebacks and clever asides. This is one time “all that talk, talk” is just wonderful to hear, and it’s fun to watch how easily the star trio does it.
However, the trio doesn’t work alone. There are a number of excellent supporting performances. Ruth Hussey earned an Oscar nomination as Macaulay’s droll reporter sidekick, who gives the film’s heady dialogue some even-headedness. Mary Nash and Virginia Weidler provide some straight comic relief as Tracy’s mother Margaret and sister Dinah, respectively. John Halliday as Tracy’s father, Seth Lord, and Roland Young as Uncle Willie are the elder statesmen bringing wisdom to the young lovers and rivals.
Finally, George Cukor, known as Hollywood’s ace director of actresses, and a frequent director of Hepburn films (Little Women, Adam’s Rib), brings it all together so that the dialogue rarely seems forced, the acting phony, or the film too staged (which often happens to films based on plays). His guiding hands make The Philadelphia Story indeed one of the great romantic and screwball comedies in film history.
9 of 10
1941 Academy Awards: 2 wins: “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (James Stewart) and “Best Writing, Screenplay” (Donald Ogden Stewart); 4 nominations: “Best Picture” (Joseph L. Mankiewicz; M-G-M), “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Katharine Hepburn), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Ruth Hussey), and “Best Director” (George Cukor)
1995 National Film Preservation Board, USA: National Film Registry
Tuesday, May 16, 2006