The Philadelphia Story (1940) – George Cukor

 

Cary Grant makes another welcome appearance in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, this time in the recommendations for his film Bringing Up Baby, alongside Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart, who won an Oscar for Actor in a Leading Role for his performance.

Katherine Hepburn is wealthy socialite Tracy Lord, and ex-wife of C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), who seems to alternately miss her and despise her. Using the possibility of her father’s (John Halliday) womanizing, he blackmails the Lord family, and Tracy, or Red as he calls her, specifically, to let two reporters cover their wedding for Spy Magazine, or a troublesome article about Seth (Halliday) may be released.

Tracy, her mother Margaret (Mary Nash), and younger sister, the cunning and hilarious Dinah (Virginia Weidler), agree to the deal, pretending that the reporters, Macaulay ‘Mike’ Conner (Stewart) and Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) are friends of the family.

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Tracy is getting ready to marry George Kittredge (John Howard), who seems a little too eager to get into the limelight that the Lord family seem to find themselves in on a regular basis. It’s also readily apparent that Dexter isn’t too keen on Kittredge, ignoring for the moment that he’s planning on marrying Haven’s ex-wife.

The dialogue is sharp and funny, quick-witted and rapid-fire. Grant, as always is a lot of fun to watch, and seeing him play opposite Stewart is a joy.

Dexter, intent on disrupting the marriage somehow, though I don’t think even he knows why he’s doing it at the beginning, is happy to encourage Mike as he slowly begins to fall for Tracy, despite the fact that Elizabeth obviously cares deeply for him.

Dinah keeps overhearing things and stirring the pot, especially on the eve of the wedding, post-party, when Tracy has had a bit too much to drink, and she and Mike seem to be falling in love.

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Kittredge learns of it, and trouble follows for all of our characters, but as always in these types of witty rom-coms, everything works out by film’s end, and no one is left lonely, except for those who deserve to be, and you can be assured that everyone gets their comeuppance.

I’m not Hepburn’s biggest fan, there’s something about her voice that just kind of bothers me, she’s a fine actor however. Stewart and Grant seem to be having a great time, but my favorite scene features Dinah, as she presents herself to Mike and Elizabeth the first time, and they don’t know that their cover is blown as reporters before they’ve even started!

The film is based on a play by Philip Barry, adapted by David Ogden Stewart, and an uncredited Waldo Salt. I’d be curious to see a version of the stage play, and of course the film was remade as a musical featuring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra… High Society.

Grant takes on the smaller role in the film, apparently at his choice, and he lets Stewart take center stage, but the trio share some fantastic, crisp dialogue, and it still remains one of the top comedies of all time.

Have you seen it?

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