The Philadelphia Story (1940)
December 1, 2015 11:46 AM - Subscribe

When a rich woman's ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself.

The Philadelphia Story at AMC Filmsite:
"The Philadelphia Story (1940) 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. (The play opened in late March 1939 and ran for a full year with more than 400 performances and a nationwide tour). [Barry's inspiration for the lead female character was derived from real-life Philadelphian WASP heiress Hope Montgomery Scott (1905-1995).] Barry, who is uncredited as the screenwriter in the film, wrote the part specifically for the talents of Katharine Hepburn who played the hit role in the theatre. [Hepburn's suggested title for the play was The Answer to This Maiden's Prayer.]

After several commercial failures and labeled 'box office poison' in 1938 by Photoplay Magazine, Hepburn struck out on her own by bringing the property to MGM after buying the film rights to the play. With producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz (for MGM), she was able to handpick the cast's co-stars (James Stewart and Cary Grant), screenwriter (Donald Ogden Stewart, who later won the Academy Award), and director (George Cukor)."
Bosley Crowther, New York Times, December 27, 1940:
"All those folks who wrote Santa Claus asking him to send them a sleek new custom-built comedy with fast lines and the very finest in Hollywood fittings got their wish just one day late with the opening of 'The Philadelphia Story' yesterday at the Music Hall. For this present, which really comes via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, has just about everything that a blue-chip comedy should have—a witty, romantic script derived by Donald Ogden Stewart out of Philip Barry's successful play; the flavor of high-society elegance, in which the patrons invariably luxuriate, and a splendid cast of performers headed by Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant. If it doesn't play out this year and well along into next they should turn the Music Hall into a shooting gallery."
Additional links
Herb Golden's review, Variety, November 26, 1940
IMDB, trivia

Additional credits
Waldo Salt, uncredited screenwriter
Ruth Hussey as Elizabeth Imbrie: "Home after a hard day's blackmailing."
Virginia Weidler as Dinah Lord: "I can tell there's something in the air because I'm being taken away."
Roland Young as Uncle Willie: "Oh, nothing, nothing. My head just fell off, that's all."
John Howard as George Kittredge
Mary Nash as Margaret Lord
John Halliday as Seth Lord

The Philadelphia Story was remade as the 1956 musical High Society, and was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry in 1995.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide (18 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Linked The Toast's take on this movie. Last time I watched this with my dad we had a good laugh about the incredibly creepy father-daughter relationship.
posted by chaiminda at 12:14 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, seriously. The "truth" about Tracy Lords is that every man in her life uses her as an excuse for his failings.
posted by maxsparber at 12:52 PM on December 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

This is a movie that shouldn't work for me. The speech Grant gives Hepburn about being an ice queen is pretty insulting. As mentioned above, the relationship with her father is a strange one. The younger sister is just annoying (granted she's supposed to be). But no matter how intellectually worked up I get about it, every time I flip the channel and it's on, it's got me. And it has had me since the first time I saw it, likely as a pre-teen or very young teen. It's one of those movies where the whole is better than the sum of its parts, which is saying something as the parts are definitely of A-1 quality.
posted by sardonyx at 2:12 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm glad to hear others also enjoy this movie even though all of the relationships are kind of gross. The absolute indignation Stewart brings to Mike just tickles me, and the scene where a drunk Mike shows up at Dexter's door makes me laugh every time.
posted by Tentacle of Trust at 7:38 PM on December 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Oh CK Dexter HAAAAVEN!!! CK Dexter Haven I would like to talk to you. "

Yup that scene cracks me up every time. In fact the whole movie does. But, yes, every male character in the movie is an ass, especially "darling Papa." I mean blaming your daughter for your infidelity?
I love scene after scene though...

The "interview" scene ("look, who's doing the interviewing here?")
The Haven/Conor drunken powwow
The opening pantomime which is just so brutal but ridiculous at the same time.
And I think the younger sister is a riot. She gets so many great bits. "I can tell there's something in the air because I'm being taken away."
posted by wabbittwax at 10:01 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I rewatch it I often think about who would be good in the three leading roles today. For instance: Nicolas Cage as Macauley Conor, George Clooney as CK Dexter Haven and Cate Blanchett as Tracy.
posted by wabbittwax at 10:06 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

A perpetual Top Five for me. Everyone in perfect form.
posted by davidmsc at 10:39 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like two of your three choices, wabbitwax, but (to me) Cage has a desperate and slimy aura I don't think would work. I think the role should have somebody more earnest, but not entirely pure, as the character is a jerk to Elizabeth for the longest time.

Actually, I think recasting Ruth Hussey' role is equally tough. I'm trying to think back to High Society (which I haven't seen nearly as often) and I'm drawing a complete blank as to what sort of impression I've got of the same character in that film. In the Philadelphia Story, Hussey always seemed to me to be an equal of Hepburn, Grant and Stewart (even if she is one of those actresses whose name I can never bring to mind when I need it).
posted by sardonyx at 7:33 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Okay, now I've been thinking about this re-casting all morning. Rather than Nic Cage, how about Edward Norton? I feel like he could pull off both the dickishness and earnestness that are vital to that character.
posted by Tentacle of Trust at 10:31 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

So, the reasoning behind Nic Cage as Conor for me is, first of all, this casting exists outside of time, so I'm thinking mainly of mid '90s "It Could Happen To You"/"Honeymoon In Vegas" Nic Cage. He and Jimmy Stewart kind of radiate the same energy for me. A little bit of "gosh-gee-whiz" mixed with a touch of terrifying insanity. I also think he'd be amazing in a remake of "Vertigo."
posted by wabbittwax at 11:10 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Prior to posting I rewatched The Philadelphia Story, and watched High Society for the first time. The former I can see over and over and still laugh; getting through the latter was a slog. The relationships are uncomfortable in the original, but they're worse in High Society. Katharine Hepburn's character is treated more like an actual human. Grace Kelly's character... ick. The film has that gross paternalistic "ladies are precious, delicate numbskulls" fifties vibe.

Comparing the two films also highlights how good Virginia Weidler was as Dinah Lord. Her 1956 counterpart is just insipid, the poor kid. It's a shame that Weidler left the film industry at such a young age. She had great comic timing and the makings of a fine actor.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 11:17 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, oh, oh - just had an idea while sitting on the train (told you I was thinking about this all day). Anne Hathaway as Tracy? Just thinking about how The Philadelphia Story was conceived of as an image rehab project for Hepburn, and that whole weird "everyone hates Ann Hathaway" thing. Though Ann might be in the backlash-against-the-backlash phase already.
posted by Tentacle of Trust at 6:52 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just want to pop in with my profound appreciation of 'Lydia the Tatooed Lady'.
posted by bq at 10:00 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Fantastic post, ods!

The acting in this film is top-notch but ugh, the misogyny. IMHO, a better pairing of Hepburn and Grant, with much more gender-bending, is "Sylvia Scarlett." And shirtless Cary Grant. I might have to revisit it tonight.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:40 AM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Philadelphia Story really grew on me. The first time I saw it, I thought it was good. But subsequent viewings over time made me appreciate it more and more, and I now consider it great.

While High Society is not as good, it has its charms, especially "Well, did you evah?"
posted by pmurray63 at 10:21 PM on December 5, 2015

One of my top five of all time. Big fan of both Virginia Weidler and Ruth Hussey in addition to the main players. So many great lines. It's somehow very human, with all the infuriating stupidity and casual cruelty that comes with. But it's also hilarious and overall so very charming.
posted by Glinn at 7:13 PM on May 17, 2016

I could absolutely see Ed Norton in the Stewart role. Cate, of course, and perhaps Emily Blunt as Elizabeth.
I think George has aged out as Haven, but might be marvelous as Seth or Uncle Willie, Hailee Steinfeld would have been a delightful Dinah. There's not many who could hold their own to Cate's Tracy, though.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:24 PM on November 8, 2017

My, she was yar.
posted by Nerd of the North at 8:21 PM on July 12

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