IMDB#226 The Philadelphia Story

With an entry on 1940’s The Philadelphia Story, we are officially One Tenth of the way through the countdown! Wooo! That list just got decimated, which literally means to reduce something by ten percent. Woo! Word humor!

Anyway, my love of words also translates to a love of screwball comedy, and if you remember months ago I was pretty big on Arsenic and Old Lace. So I was pretty stoked to watch what on all accounts is a classic.

The Key Players:

Our director is George Cukor, an Oscar winner for the much more famous but not on the countdown My Fair Lady. Cukor is also famous for being slow and difficult to work with, at least earlier in his career, leading to his dismissal from projects as famous as The Wizard Of Oz and Gone With The Wind.

He directs three cinema heavies- Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart (whom we’ve seen before), and the late, great Katherine Hepburn. Hepburn, a Hollywood legend whose imdb trivia page is filled with fun facts like “did all her own stunts because the stunt women never stood up straight enough,” is a record-setting four time Lead Actress Oscar winner.

Not a trailer, just a mushy scene with Hepburn & Stewart.

The Story:

Hepburn plays a rich socialite with an iron will, about to get married for a second time after divorcing Cary Grant’s schmoozy business man some years before. Grant, not invited to the wedding but not shy about showing up anyway, makes a deal with a tabloid to smuggle a failed-writer/reporter (Stewart) and a photographer into the ceremony for the scoop.

Hilarity ensues. Pretty simple.

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The Artisticness:

Much like previous countdown 40’s comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, The Philadelphia Story was based on a play, and reflects that to a great degree. There’s not a terrible amount I remember that struck me visually, but it’s quick-witted and sharp.

Hepburn apparently bought the rights to the play and developed the film as a comeback role after a series of flops, and it certainly is a proper showcase for her talent (though somehow I’ve only seen On Golden Pond among her long filmography. Well, at least I’ll get to The African Queen before this is over).

Stewart and Grant both bring the usual cleverness to their roles, quickly pushing Hepburn’s stodgy “man of the people” fiancé to the background and creating a fun little love quadrangle.

As a comedy, The Philadelphia Story is certainly slower-paced than I expected, but the twists and turns happen quickly enough, and the stars are winning enough to keep me interested. Plus, Stewart plays a struggling writer, which always appeals to my sensibilities.

And it’s hard not to fall into rhythm with dialogue like this:

-I suppose I should object to this twosome!
-That would be most objectionable.

-I’m testing the air. I like it, but it doesn’t like me.

-You hardly know him!
-To hardly know him is to know him well.

-I would sell my grandmother for a drink- and you know how I love my grandmother.


For a lead role that she oversaw, and for a well-remembered personality of Hollywood royalty, Hepburn spends a lot of The Philadelphia Story getting pushed around. She drinks, goes for a swim with Stewart’s bumbling character, gets a stern talking to from her father for driving him to infidelity somehow, and eventually, after some chicanery with blackmail, misunderstandings and the like, accepts Grant’s proposal to get remarried- though it seems more like he tricks her into it.

And I’m pretty sure near the beginning someone piches her bottom. But that’s the 40’s for you. Otherwise, it’s pretty harmless fun, and I guess there’s a message about not having a heart of stone in their somewhere.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

It seems fine where it is, to me. Not my favorite example of old-school comedy (and I’m excited to get to His Girl Friday pretty soon and compare), but I laughed. I’m an easy mark for banter.

The Legacy:

All the good stuff- National Film registry preservation, lists of 100 films and so forth. Jimmy Stewart won Best Actor and the Screenplay Best Adapted at the Oscars the following winter and everything.

It was even adapted into the 1956 musical High Society, which in turn was adapted into a stage musical ten years ago.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

One of my favorite scenes, when a drunk Stewart shows up at Grant’s house with an idea to reverse the tabloid-blackmail scheme that they’ve been embroiled in, since they both like Hepburn’s character after all.

-This is where Cinderella gets off- now you hurry back to the ball before you turn into a pumpkin and six white mice.

Leftover Thoughts:

-Champagne is a great levelerer. Leveler- it makes you my equal.
-I wouldn’t quite say that.
-Well, almost my equal.

-What’s wrong?
-Oh nothing, nothing. My head’s just fell off, that’s all.

Actual tagline for this film: Broadway's howling year-run comedy hit of the snooty society beauty who slipped and fell — IN LOVE!   That’s just how they talked back then, I suppose.

1 Response to "IMDB#226 The Philadelphia Story"

  1. hélène says:

    so great !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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