The Philadelphia Story (film)

The Philadelphia Story is a 1940 American romantic comedy film[2][3] starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart and Ruth Hussey. Directed by George Cukor, the film is based on the 1939 Broadway play of the same name by Philip Barry[4] about a socialite whose wedding plans are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband and a tabloid magazine journalist. The socialite, played by Hepburn in both productions, was inspired by Helen Hope Montgomery Scott (1904–1995), a Philadelphia heiress who had married Barry's friend.[5]

The Philadelphia Story
Theatrical poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Screenplay byDonald Ogden Stewart
Based onThe Philadelphia Story
1939 play
by Philip Barry
Produced byJoseph L. Mankiewicz
StarringCary Grant
Katharine Hepburn
James Stewart
Ruth Hussey
CinematographyJoseph Ruttenberg
Edited byFrank Sullivan
Music byFranz Waxman
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.
Release dates
  • December 5, 1940 (1940-12-05) (premiere)
  • December 26, 1940 (1940-12-26) (New York City)
  • January 17, 1941 (1941-01-17) (US)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$914,000 [1]
Box office$3.3 million[1]

Written for the screen by Donald Ogden Stewart and an uncredited Waldo Salt, it is considered among the best examples of a comedy of remarriage, in which a couple divorce, flirt with outsiders and then remarry. The genre was popular in the 1930s and 1940s at a time when divorce was considered scandalous and the depiction of extramarital affairs was blocked by the Production Code.[6][7]

The film was Hepburn's first hit following several flops that had caused her placement on a 1938 list of actors considered to be "box office poison" compiled by theater owner Harry Brandt.[8] Hepburn starred in the play and acquired the film rights, with the help of Howard Hughes,[9] to control it as a vehicle for her screen comeback.[10]

Nominated for six Academy Awards, the film won two: James Stewart for Best Actor and Donald Ogden Stewart for Best Adapted Screenplay. MGM remade the film in 1956 as a musical retitled High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra.[11]

The Philadelphia Story was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1995.[12]

Plot edit

Mike carries Tracy into the house after a midnight dip.

Tracy Lord is the elder daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia Main Line socialite family. She was married to C.K. Dexter Haven, a yacht designer and member of her social set, but divorced him two years prior because, according to her father, he does not meet the standards that she sets for all her friends and family. She is soon to marry the wealthy George Kittredge.

In New York, Spy magazine publisher Sidney Kidd is eager to cover the wedding and assigns reporter Mike Connor and photographer Liz Imbrie. Kidd intends to use the assistance of Dexter, who has been working for Spy in South America. Dexter tells Kidd that he will introduce them as friends of Tracy's brother Junius, a diplomat in Argentina. Tracy is not fooled, but Dexter tells her that Kidd has threatened the reputation of her family with an innuendo-laden article about her father's affair with a dancer. Tracy deeply resents her father's infidelity, which has prompted her parents to live separately. Nonetheless, to protect her family's reputation, she agrees to let Mike and Liz stay and cover her wedding.

Dexter is welcomed by Tracy's mother Margaret and teenage sister Dinah, much to Tracy's frustration. She soon discovers that Mike has admirable qualities and finds his book of short stories in the library. As the wedding nears, she finds herself torn among George, Dexter, and Mike.

The night before the wedding, Tracy becomes drunk, kisses Mike and takes an innocent midnight swim with him. When George observes Mike carrying Tracy into the house afterward, he assumes the worst. The next day, George tells her that he was shocked and feels entitled to an explanation before proceeding with the wedding. She admits to having no excuse and realizes that he does not really know her and has loved her as an idealized, perfect angel, so she cancels the engagement.

Tracy realizes that the guests have arrived and are waiting for the wedding ceremony to begin. Mike quickly volunteers to marry her, but she graciously declines because she perceives that Liz is in love with him. Dexter then offers to remarry her, and she gladly accepts.

Cast edit

Production edit

"Everyone had enormous fun on the movie. The days and nights were sweltering that summer of 1940, but nobody cared. Cary got along very well with Kate Hepburn. She enjoyed him pushing her through a doorway in one scene (so she fell over backward) so much that she had him do it to her over and over again. There was a scene in which she had to throw Cary out the door of a house, bag and baggage, and she did it so vigorously he fell over and was bruised. As he stood up, looking rueful, Kate said, "That'll serve you right, Cary, for trying to be your own stuntman."

—Cameraman Joseph Ruttenberg, recalling The Philadelphia Story (1940).[13]

Broadway playwright Philip Barry wrote the play specifically for Hepburn, who financially supported the play and declined a salary in return for a percentage of the profits.[14] Her costars were Joseph Cotten as Dexter Haven, Van Heflin as Mike Connor and Shirley Booth as Liz Imbrie.[4] The play also originally featured a character named Sandy that was eliminated from the screenplay.[citation needed]

The original play, starring Hepburn, ran for 417 performances.[4] It earned more than $1 million at the box office sales and later toured, performing another 250 times and returning more than $750,000 in sales.[citation needed]

Hepburn had hoped to create a film vehicle for herself that would erase the label of "box office poison" that she had acquired after a number of commercial failures (such as Bringing Up Baby). Howard Hughes purchased the film rights for the play and gave them for her. Hepburn then sold the rights to MGM's Louis B. Mayer for $250,000 and the power of final approval of the film's producer, director, screenwriter and cast.[10][14]

Hepburn as Tracy Lord and Stewart as Mike Connor

Hepburn selected director George Cukor, with whom she had worked for A Bill of Divorcement (1932) and Little Women (1933), and Barry's friend Donald Ogden Stewart, a writer experienced with adapting plays to the screen.[14] Stewart, who won an Oscar for the script, said that "getting an Oscar for The Philadelphia Story was the easiest Oscar you could imagine. All you had to do was get out of the way." He wrote the script while listening to a tape recording of a live performance of the play to ensure that he preserved the lines that received the most laughter.[15]

Hepburn wanted Clark Gable to play Dexter Haven and Spencer Tracy to play Mike Connor, but both had other commitments.[11] The pairing of Cukor and Gable might have been problematic in any case, as they had clashed during the filming of the recent Gone with the Wind, with Cukor replaced by Gable's friend Victor Fleming.[16] Grant agreed to play the part only if he were afforded top billing and that his salary would be $137,000, which he donated to the British War Relief Society.[17]

According to the documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars, after Mayer purchased the film rights, he was skeptical about Hepburn's box-office appeal and took the unusual precaution of engaging two top male stars (Grant and Stewart) to support Hepburn.

The film was in production from July 5 to August 14, 1940,[18] five days under schedule,[10] at MGM's studios in Culver City.[19]

Reception edit

Release edit

Theatrical trailer

The film premiered in New York City on December 26, 1940 and was shown in select theaters in December, but MGM had agreed to hold its general release until January 1941 to avoid competition with the stage play[10] that was touring the country.[4] It entered general American release on January 17, 1941.[20] It broke a box-office record at Radio City Music Hall by earning $600,000 in just six weeks.[citation needed]

According to MGM records, the film earned $2,374,000 in the U.S. and Canada, and $885,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $1,272,000.[1]

Critical reception edit

Grant as C.K. Dexter Haven, and John Howard as George Kittredge

Writing for The New York Times in 1940, Bosley Crowther wrote that the film "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 Hepburn, Stewart, and Grant. If it doesn't play out this year and well along into next, they should turn the Music Hall into a shooting gallery ... Metro and Director George Cukor have graciously made it apparent, in the words of a character, that one of 'the prettiest sights in this pretty world is the privileged classes enjoying their privileges'. And so, in this instance, will you, too."[21]

Life named The Philadelphia Story its film of the week in January 1941, describing it as "among the best funny pictures" of the year.[22]

The film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 101 reviews, with an average rating of 9/10. The consensus reads: "Offering a wonderfully witty script, spotless direction from George Cukor, and typically excellent lead performances, The Philadelphia Story is an unqualified classic."[23] Rotten Tomatoes has also ranked it as the best romantic comedy of all time.[24]

The film was the last of four starring Grant and Hepburn following Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and Holiday (1938).

Awards and honors edit

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two (Best Actor and Best Screenplay). James Stewart did not expect to win and felt that the award was given to him as compensation for his role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington the previous year.[14]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[25] Best Picture Joseph L. Mankiewicz (for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) Nominated
Best Director George Cukor Nominated
Best Actor James Stewart Won
Best Actress Katharine Hepburn Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Ruth Hussey Nominated
Best Screenplay Donald Ogden Stewart Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[26] Best Film Nominated
Best Actress Katharine Hepburn Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards[27] Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won

The film was named the third-best of the year by The Film Daily.[28]

In 1995, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.[12]

The film was included in various American Film Institute lists:

Adaptations edit

Hepburn, Grant and Stewart perform The Philadelphia Story for the Victory Theater radio program in 1942

The stars of The Philadelphia Story appeared in a one-hour radio adaptation on the premiere episode of the Department of War's special Victory Theater summer series,[34][35][36] airing on July 20, 1942.[37] Lux Radio Theatre produced a second adaptation for its own use on June 14, 1943, starring Robert Taylor, Loretta Young and Robert Young.[10][38] The film was also adapted for two half-hour episodes of The Screen Guild Theater, first with Greer Garson, Henry Fonda and Fred MacMurray (April 5, 1942),[39] and then with Hepburn, Grant and Stewart reprising their film roles (March 17, 1947).[40]

The film was adapted in 1956 as the MGM musical High Society, directed by Charles Walters and starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm and Louis Armstrong.[11]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger. Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ Variety film review; November 27, 1940, page 16.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; December 7, 1940.
  4. ^ a b c d "The Philadelphia Story (1939 play)". Internet Broadway Database.
  5. ^ Irvine, Ian "The Real Philadelphia Story" at
  6. ^ "Waldo Salt". Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  7. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (February 12, 2015). "The Philadelphia Story review – fun and wit rise like champagne bubbles". The Guardian.
  8. ^ "The New Pictures". Time. January 20, 1941. Archived from the original on December 23, 2009. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  9. ^ Hyde, Douglas (February 23, 2005). "The Hughes-Hepburn affair; Hepburn biographer describes 'tender' relationship".
  10. ^ a b c d e TCM Notes
  11. ^ a b c Hay, Peter (1991). MGM: When the Lion Roars. Turner Publishing. pp. 206–207, 310. ISBN 978-1878685049.
  12. ^ a b "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  13. ^ Higham & Moseley 1990, p. 129.
  14. ^ a b c d Melear, Mary Anne. "The Philadelphia Story". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  15. ^ Eyles, Allen; Gillet, John (1986). "David Ogden Stewart: Politically Conscious". In McGilligan, Patrick (ed.). Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood's Golden Age. p. 344-345.
  16. ^ Smith, Dinitia (March 22, 2005). "The Antic Birth Pangs of 'Gone With the Wind'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on April 26, 2023. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  17. ^ Eric Page, ‘Cary Grant, Movies’ Epitome of Elegance, Dies of A Stroke’ The New York Times, December 1, 1986. Retrieved August 4, 2019.
  18. ^ IMDB Business data
  19. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  20. ^ TCM Overview
  21. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 27, 1940). "A Splendid Cast Adorns the Screen Version of 'The Philadelphia Story' at the Music Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  22. ^ "Movie of the week: The Philadelphia Story". LIFE. January 6, 1941. p. 31. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  23. ^ "The Philadelphia Story". December 1, 1940. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  24. ^ "Best Romantic Comedies". Rotten Tomatoes.
  25. ^ "The 13th Academy Awards (1941) Nominees and Winners". (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved August 12, 2011.
  26. ^ "New York Film Critics Circle Awards: 1940 Awards". New York Film Critics Circle.
  27. ^ "Film Hall of Fame Inductees: Productions". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved August 15, 2021.
  28. ^ Aitchison, Marion (January 14, 1942). "Time Reviewers Again Pick Eight Out of Ten Winners". St. Petersburg Times.
  29. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  30. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  31. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  32. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  33. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10: Top 10 Romantic Comedy". American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  34. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 43 (3): 34. Summer 2017.
  35. ^ "The Definitive Victory Theater Radio Article and Log with The Office of War Information". The Digital Deli Too. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  36. ^ Reinhart, Charles F. (July 20, 2016). "Victory Theatre – The Philadelphia Story". Jimmy Stewart on the Air. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  37. ^ "Victory Theater Premiere Stars Hepburn, Stewart, Grant Tonight". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 20, 1942. p. 4 (Daily Magazine). Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  38. ^ "Monday Selections". Toledo Blade (Ohio). June 14, 1943. p. 4 (Peach Section). Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  39. ^ Vincent Johnson (April 4, 1942). "Radio Marks First Observance of Easter with America at War". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 4 (Daily Magazine). Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  40. ^ "Monday Selections". Toledo Blade (Ohio). March 17, 1947. p. 4 (Peach Section). Retrieved July 18, 2021.

Sources edit

External links edit

Streaming audio edit