“You hardly know him,” says Tracy Lord. C.K. Dexter Haven responds, “To hardly know him is to know him well.”
One of my favorite Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn team-ups is Howard Hawks’ 1938 comedy classic Bringing Up Baby. They worked so well off each other that I was excited when I learned of another collaboration of theirs, George Cukor’s 1940 classic The Philadelphia Story. After a few years of waiting, I finally got a chance to see The Philadelphia Story on the big screen 12 years ago at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of a Cary Grant retrospective (each weekend focused on a different director collaboration: Alfred Hitchcock, Leo McCarey, Howard Hawks, Stanley Donen, and George Cukor). It was such a fun and hilarious experience, especially seeing Grant and Hepburn play off of James Stewart. This review of The Philadelphia Story is my entry in the Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Margaret Perry.
1940’s The Philadelphia Story follows a socialite whose wedding preparations are interrupted by the arrival of her ex-husband, a magazine journalist, and a magazine photographer. Cukor assembled a terrific ensemble that included Cary Grant (as C.K. Dexter Haven), Katharine Hepburn (as Tracy Lord), James Stewart (as Mike Connor), Ruth Hussey (as Elizabeth Imbrie), John Howard (as George Kittredge), Roland Young (as William Q. Tracy), John Halliday (as Seth Lord), Mary Nash (as Margaret Lord), Virginia Weidler (as Dinah Lord), Henry Daniell (as Sidney Kidd), Lionel Pape (as Edward), Rex Evans (as Thomas), and David Clyde (as Mac). Best Actress Oscar nominee Hepburn is a commanding presence as an heiress who must contend with the shenanigans of her ex-husband, a reporter, and a photographer on the eve of her wedding. Grant is mischievous as Tracy’s ex-husband who manipulates the events of the story and scores with some of the film’s best lines. Best Actor Oscar winner Stewart excels as the magazine reporter who is reluctant to covers a high society wedding. Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Hussey is terrific as the magazine photographer who’s secretly in love with Stewart’s reporter.
Best Director Oscar nominee Cukor draws strong performances from his cast and deftly balances the shenanigans. The Oscar-winning screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart successfully adapts Philip Barry’s play for the big screen, ensuring that it remains witty and charming. Joseph Ruttenberg’s black-and-white cinematography reflects the film’s light tone. Cedric Gibbons’ production design creates a Lord mansion that is a world of its own, and the costume designs by Adrian are gorgeous. Frank Sullivan’s editing moves this screwball comedy at an excellent pace, and Franz Waxman delivers a wonderful score that emphasizes the story’s romance. Cukor’s Best Picture Oscar nominee The Philadelphia Story was a criticial and financial success, one that helped end Hepburn being labeled “box office poison,” finally brought Jimmy Stewart an Academy Award (an Oscar that he felt he only won because he didn’t win the year before for Mr. Smith Goes To Washington), and has become an undeniable comedy classic.