MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #44. The Philadelphia Story (1940)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
 philadelphia story

“You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.”

I’d say that for as long as I’ve been a serious movie fan, I’ve appreciated the work of Cary Grant, James Stewart and Katherine Hepburn.  But I’d also say that it’s only since writing this blog and forcing myself to actively seek out the classics, that I’ve finally started to appreciate why these three, amongst many others, are so revered all these years later.


I know this level of appreciation must be a relatively new thing, because I’ve seen The Philadelphia Story before, about five years ago.  And somehow, I didn’t remember that these three icons are all in it together.  And seriously, how could I forget these three together, even if the result was somehow terrible?  So the fact that The Philadelphia Story is up there with the best any of them ever did, makes me wonder how dumb was I, or how little attention did I pay, when I watched it five years ago?

Opening with rich socialite Tracy (Hepburn) kicking her husband Dexter (Grant) to the curb, The Philadelphia Story immediately jumps two years ahead, with Tracy on the verge of marrying George (John Howard).  Smelling a story, a newspaper editor blackmails Dexter into sneaking reporter, Macauley (Stewart) and his girlfriend / photographer (Ruth Hussey as Elizabeth) into the wedding.  You see, Dexter and Tracy may have been divorced, but they come from the kind of Philadelphia old money that means something as trivial as a broken marriage doesn’t get in the way of a social occasion.

With the class system always at the forefront, Macauley struggles to hide his disdain for the lazy rich, while George is constantly deified for being a self made man, all the way from digging coal, to running the company.  While Tracy sees herself as a free spirit who has no interest in worrying about things like class or money, she begins to realise that’s only the case because she’s always had money and connected men to help her out of any jam.  As Macauley, George and Dexter all begin to call her on her bullshit, a love quadrangle emerges.

Here’s something you don’t hear too often about a modern romantic comedy, The Philadelphia Story is actually funny.  The three main actors all get great lines, and all deliver every single one for maximum funny.  Here’s something you hear even less about a modern romantic comedy, The Philadelphia Story isn’t totally predictable.  As things lead to the end credits there are two very viable options for Tracy to choose, and while I had no idea which direction it would go, I think I would have been fine with either.

I’ve seen all three of these actors do amazing stuff plenty of times before, but seeing them all together really is something special.  Grant as the suave, unflappable playboy, Stewart as the idealistic underdog who’s just as pompous as the people he thinks he hates, Hepburn in full Hepburn mode as this strong, take no shit woman in a time when women generally had to take shit.  There’s isn’t a single reason not to watch this movie.  And once you do watch The Philadelphia Story, I dare you to find a single reason not to love it.

The Philadelphia Story
Directed By – George Cukor
Written By – Donald Ogden Stewart 

Academy Awards
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Rebecca)
Best Director (Cukor nominated, lost to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath)
Best Actor – Stewart
Best Actress (Hepburn nominated, lost to Ginger Rogers for Kitty Ford)
Best Supporting Actress (Hussey nominated, lost to Jane Darwell for The Grapes of Wrath)

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