There are a few reasons why The Philadelphia Story was one of those films that I had been meaning to watch for a while. For one thing, The Philadelphia Story was nominated for best picture of 1940 (it lost to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca) and my ultimate goal is to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture. The other reason is that Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for his performance in The Philadelphia Story and anyone who doesn’t love Jimmy Stewart has obviously never seen Anatomy of a Murder (not to mention It’s a Wonderful Life!).
Well, The Philadelphia Story was on TCM last night and I finally got to see it and what can I say? I absolutely loved it. For a 74 year-old, black-and-white comedy, The Philadelphia Story is still a lot of fun.
The Philadelphia Story tells the story of Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), a wealthy socialite who is engaged to marry George Kitteridge (John Howard), a self-described “man of the people,” who is widely respect for both his strong moral character and the fact that — unlike most of Tracy’s friends — he made his fortune as opposed to inheriting it.
It would be tempting to reach into the bag of simplistic blogging clichés and call the Lords a 1940s version of Khardashians but I’m not going to do that because the Lords have a lot more wit and class. My favorite member of Tracy’s family was Dinah (Virginia Wiedler), her teenage sister who is sarcastic, cheerfully cynical, and has no problem demanding to be the center of attention. My sister Erin claims that the reason I liked Dinah is because I saw a lot of myself in the character and that’s probably true. However, I have to say that the great thing about both Tracy and Dinah is that they were both wittier, classier, and better dressers than all of the Khardashians and Jenners combined.
Anyway, the evil editor of Spy Magazine, Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell), wants to get pictures of Tracy’s very exclusive and very private wedding so he sends two of his reporters in under cover. Mike Connor (James Stewart) is a frustrated writer who hates having to lower himself to writing for a tabloid. Photographer Liz (Ruth Hussey) is secretly in love with Mike. Helping Mike and Liz pass themselves off as friends of the family is Tracy’s ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant).
As quickly becomes obvious, Dexter is still in love with Tracy. However, Tracy divorced Dexter because Dexter was an irresponsible alcoholic and, even though Dexter has changed his ways and she is still obviously attracted to him, Tracy is now engaged to the morally upright but boring and judgmental George.
However, Tracy is not just torn between George and Dexter. She is attracted to Mike as well, to the extent that Tracy even takes the trouble to read some of Mike’s short stories. For only the second time in her life, Tracy gets drunk and goes for a midnight swim with Mike. This, of course, leads to the best scene in The Philadelphia Story: Jimmy Stewart singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Seriously, the scene made my entire night.
The Philadelphia Story is based on a play and the film itself is rather stagey in that way that films from the 40s often appear to be to modern viewers. But, once you get used to the fact that the movie was made in 1940 and not 2014, it’s a real delight. The dialogue is funny and it’s delivered by one of the best casts ever. Playing a role that was specifically written for her, Katherine Hepburn is brilliant as the strong-willed but unapologetically romantic Tracy and Cary Grant is just as charming as you would expect Cary Grant to be. Best of all, you’ve got Jimmy Stewart singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and seriously, how can you not love that?