Thursday, November 10, 2011

#451. The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Directed By: George Cukor

Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart

Tag line: "Broadway's howling year-run comedy hit of the snooty society beauty who slipped and fell - IN LOVE!"

Trivia:  Although George Cukor was not usually a very physical director, Katharine Hepburn incorporated some of his mannerisms into her performance

Philadelphia socialite C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) learns that his ex-wife, the headstrong, arrogant Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn), is about to marry the eternally nice but extremely boring George Kitteridge (John Howard). To add insult to injury, a local Philadelphia magazine is about to publish an expose on Tracy’s womanizing father (John Halliday). 

In an effort to squash the potentially scandalous story, C.K. makes a deal with the magazine’s editor, promising to sneak reporter Macauley Conner (James Stewart) and a photographer (Ruth Hussey) into his ex-wife's wedding, thus giving the magazine an exclusive scoop on the society event of the year. 

But C.K. has his own motives for helping the press: he wants to foul up the wedding and win Tracy back for himself. Things get a bit complicated, however, when the reporter, Conner, also falls in love with Tracy! 

Despite its various characters and situations, The Philadelphia Story is, first and foremost, the story of Tracy Lord, the snide socialite who abhors imperfection. As a matter of principle, Tracy refuses to invite her estranged father to her wedding, though her mother (Mary Nash) is still in love with him. Tracy also maintains a contemptuous relationship with C.K., who, rumor has it, slugged her the day their marriage ended (in reality, he just shoved her to the ground). 

Hepburn's Tracy is tough as nails and won’t stand for a man’s indiscretions. Which, in a way, explains her impending marriage to Kitteridge. In him, she has found a mate who will adore her, obey her, and bend over backwards if she asks him to. Enter Macauley Conner, the tabloid columnist and aspiring poet, who, with his strong opinions, opens Tracy’s eyes. Whereas Tracy can’t abide imperfection, Conner loathes high society and its phony prestige. He is the antithesis to Tracy, and his very manner stirs something inside of her. 

Saying Katherine Hepburn was born to play Tracy Lord is not the cliché it appears to be. Fact is, playwright Philip Barry, who wrote the original stage version of The Philadelphia Story, based the character of Tracy on Ms. Hepburn, who at the time was suffering from a rather poor public image. Seen as aloof and even arrogant by an unforgiving public, Hepburn’s movie career was on the rocks. Her performance in The Philadelphia Story, first on stage and then screen, changed all that. Because of the success of The Philadelphia Story, Katherine Hepburn was no longer deemed "box-office poison", and would go on to appear in some of the greatest motion pictures ever made. 

This alone makes The Philadelphia Story a movie to treasure.  The fact that it is also a funny, engaging motion picture is just icing on the cake.

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