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The Philadelphia Story, Sophisticated Hollywood

Updated on November 28, 2012
Grant, Hepburn and Stewart
Grant, Hepburn and Stewart

The Philadelphia Story is an intelligent, sophisticated, classic romantic comedy-farce (part screwball) of love and marriage, human growth and class distinctions. Its screenplay is a witty, sparkling, and bright adaptation of Philip Barry's Broadway hit play and the film stars Three major Hollywood talents at their artistic peak.

The film is so extraordinarily well-done that it can be watched repeatedly, revealing each time new and hidden delights. It strikes the perfect balance of being spectacularly well-acted, hysterically funny, and delightfully silly while maintaining an elegant veneer. The cast is nearly overwhelming in its quality, with Hepburn and Grant turning in especially fine performances.

The film won Academy Awards for James Stewart (Best Actor), and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart (Best Adapted Screenplay). It also received Academy Award nominations for George Cukor (Best Director), Katharine Hepburn (Best Actress), Ruth Hussey (Best Supporting Actress), and Best Picture (Joseph L. Mankiewicz - producer).


The Classic Opening

Plot Summary

The plot centres round the tangled web of relationships between the main protagonists.

Katharine Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, daughter of the wealthy and socially-prominent Philadelphian Seth Lord. She has recently divorced from unreliable playboy, Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), and she is about to marry again, this time to George, who is respectable but on the dull side.

Turning up uninvited to the wedding are her ex-husband, Dexter, and two reporters from Spy magazine, Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Hussey) who is also Connor's love interest.. Together the trio set out to find a scandal and throw a rather large spanner in the society lady's works.

The three stars form an incomparable romantic triangle and the script abounds with witty dialogue and quick-fire repartee between them. Ace Hollywood women's director George Cukor adapts this urbane comedy with precision and wit.

The twists and turns of the plot as the relationships ebb and flow are many. As you would expect, hilarity ensues, and everything turns out right in the end. ). As the wedding nears, Tracy finds herself torn between Mike, Dexter and George.

The night before the wedding, Tracy gets drunk for only the second time in her life and takes an impromptu, innocent swim with Mike. When George sees Mike carrying an intoxicated Tracy into the house afterwards (both of them wearing only bathrobes), he thinks the worst, that his bride-to-be has disgraced herself. The next day, he tells her that he was shocked and feels entitled to an explanation before going ahead with the wedding. Tracy takes exception to his lack of faith in her and breaks off the engagement. Then she realizes that all the guests have arrived and are waiting for the ceremony to begin. Mike volunteers to marry her (much to Elizabeth's distress), but Tracy graciously declines. At this point, Dexter makes his successful bid for her hand.

Cary Grant Framed Print
Cary Grant Framed Print | Source

Stewart to Hepburn:

"There's magnificence in you ... a magnificence that comes out of your eyes, in your voice, in the way you stand there, in the way you walk. You're lit from within, Tracy. You've got fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts ... you're made out of flesh and blood. That's the blank, unholy surprise of it. You're the golden girl, Tracy. Full of life and warmth and delight. What goes on? You've got tears in your eyes."

Great stuff.

Some Great Scenes

Cast List

Cary Grant as C. K. Dexter Haven

Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord

James Stewart as Macaulay Connor

Ruth Hussey as Elizabeth Imbrie

John Howard as George Kittredge

Roland Young as Uncle Willie

John Halliday as Seth Lord

Mary Nash as Margaret Lord

Virginia Weidler as Dinah Lord

Henry Daniell as Sidney Kidd

Hepburn Imperious


The role of Tracy Lord was written expressly for Katharine Hepburn and she is superb as the beautiful woman of wealth who as the plot unwinds ends up re-marrying her first husband played by Cary Grant. Periodically Hollywood makes a perfect film - director, music, script, cast etc. This is one of those films. Cary grant is perfect in an understated performance where the inclination of a head, the lifting of a brow, can speak volumes. Jimmy Stewart is the tough/tender reporter who becomes in the "dancing by the pool scene" the sexy potential lover who waxes poetic when speaking to Tracy and reveals the writer/poet that he really aspires to be. George Cukor assembled a wonderful supporting cast and then brought out scintillating performances from all of them.


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