The Philadelphia Story
The Philadelphia Story has become one of my favorite movies. A great cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Roland Young, John Halliday and the impish Virginia Weidler. Socialite Tracy Lord has just unceremoniously split with her husband ship builder C. Dexter Haven over his drinking and her extremely high standards. The first scene alone is worth the entire movie-Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is obviously angry when she carries C. Dexter Haven’s (Cary Grant) golf clubs out to his car and throws them to the ground, but not before pulling one out and breaking it in half over her knee. Once she turns and stomps back in the front door, Haven follows behind her, and makes a move like he’s about to deck her, but instead takes his hand and shoves her face, which pushes her down to the floor. This sets up their relationship for the entire movie. Fast forward two years and Tracy is now engaged to George Kitteridge, a wealthy man who is aiming for a career in politics. Kitteridge is the complete opposite of Dexter-very proper, adheres to rules of polite society and is not a fan of C. Dexter Haven. It is the day before Tracy’s marriage to George and Dexter is hanging around the Lord mansion to the delight of Tracy’s younger sister Dinah. Dinah is team-Dexter all the way. She is not a fan of George and is determined to find a way, any way to stop the wedding even if it means finding a way to get small pox! Virginia Weidler as Dinah is a treasure in this film-from her entrance meeting James Stewart’s Macaulay Connor and Ruth Hussey’s Liz Imbrie in toe shoes, to her singing a delightfully off-color song called “Lydia the Tattoo’d Lady” while Stewart and Imbrie look at each other with “what is going on here?!” It is a 3-ring circus at the Lord’s to begin with! Dexter has plans of his own and the reason Connor and Imbrie are at the Lord’s for Tracy’s wedding is to spy on the proceedings for him. It is also a trade off so that the magazine doesn’t publish more scandalous details of Tracy’s fathers affair. Dexter’s wedding gift to Tracy is a model of the boat they once owned, the True Love. “She was yar.” Tracy is upset when Dex says he intends to sell the boat.
The performances of both Hepburn and Stewart really stand out to me. The role of Tracy Lord was written for Hepburn and she relishes this role with her choices as every phrase is carefully crafted with pauses, tones and a giggle that is fun to listen to. Written by Philip Barry for the stage and then the screen there are so many sides to the personality of Tracy Lord. She may get perturbed by Dexter, but she is not chasing him away from her home and marriage to Kitteridge. She seems to delight in the presence of Connor and Imbrie at her wedding. (Their cover story is they are friends with Tracy’s brother Junius.). She and Stewart get very drunk at the party the night before and find themselves very attracted to each other. When Stewart gets a ride over to C. Dexter Haven’s house and proceeds to calling his name over and and over again in a sing-songy voice is hilarious. On Tracy’s part, alcohol fuels her feelings, but Connor seems to be truly smitten. Unfortunately carrying Tracy back to the main house after a night of swimming is too much for George and he assumes an affair has taken place. To protect Tracy’s honor Connor proposes. Tracy is level-headed enough to say no, partly because she is very aware that Liz Imbrie is in love with Connor. Besides, she still loves Dex although she won’t admit it. Yet. At this point with the wedding to Kitteridge off and the house full of guests, Dexter suggests they carry through with the wedding ceremony they were supposed to have had when they eloped. There was never any doubt that Tracy would marry Dexter over Kitteridge. Tracy has too much passion, too much to explore than to not have any say so in her life. George wanted her to stay home and raise their children. There is definitely more adventure and a world to explore with Dex. It is truly a no-brainer.
Gilbert Roland as their Uncle Willie, the fiendish pincher, is a great character part and humorously assumes the role of Tracy’s father who was not invited to the wedding. He also hasn’t been living in the Lord Mansion. Tracy’s real father is played by John Halliday. His transgression: he is rumored to have been involved with a chorus girl. This is very scandalous and it is obvious that George has not met Seth Lord as he is not aware that Uncle Willie is Uncle Willie. Tracy has been especially hard on her father regarding this scandal and while her mother is willing to take him back and forgive, Tracy’s high standards won’t allow it. He comes to the house anyway and subjects himself to some insults before Tracy finally forgives him. John Halliday has been in some great pre-code films “Millie”, “Consolation Marriage” and “Age of Consent” to name a few.
This film is from 1940, made after Hepburn was labeled “Box Office Poison” by American Theater owners. “The Philadelphia Story” was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture (Joseph Mankiewicz), Best Director (George Cukor), Best Actor (James Stewart), Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Supporting Actress (Ruth Hussey), Best Screenplay (David Ogden Stewart). Stewart won Best Actor and David Ogden Stewart won for Best Screenplay. It is unfortunate that Hepburn lost to Ginger Rogers for “Kitty Foyle”. Hepburn’s range in this film is exceptional.
This is a must-see film!