Classic Chick Flicks 101: The Philadelphia Story

Released: 1940
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Donald Ogden Stewart (based on a play by Philip Barry)

The Perfect Cast

The great Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. The perfect cast for my all time favorite Classic Chick Flick, The Philadelphia Story. The movie was based on a Broadway play by Philip Barry, who wrote it specifically for Miss Hepburn.  On Broadway, the play starred not only Katharine Hepburn, but  Joseph Cotten, Van Heflin,  Shirley Booth  and  Anne Baxter played the younger sister.  Before becoming a big hit in the play, Hepburn had a series of  flops was labeled “box office poison“.   But her boyfriend at the time, Howard Hughes purchased the film rights to the play gave them to her as a gift. WOW! That’s what I call a great gift!

The Plot

Enough history. The story, like so many stories of this era involves  wealthy high society  people. In fact, the musical remake of The Philadelphia Story (starring Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly and Fred Astaire) was called High Society. The movie starts out with a great scene with wealthy Philadelphia heiress Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) throwing  out her playboy husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant).

A few years later, Tracy is about to be remarried to  the respectable, although boring  George Kittredge.  In 1940, this would be their version of a celebrity wedding, complete with all the media’s frenzy. The problems arise when Dexter is coerced into getting the full story on his ex-wife’s wedding.  So, after being thrown out on his ear, Dexter arrives at the Lord’s home the day before the wedding with a tabloid reporter, Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewert) and a photographer Liz Imbrie  (Ruth Hussey) under the guise of their being friends of the family.

That is The Philadelphia Story in nutshell. But that is not what makes this movie great. It is the interaction and chemistry between Hepburn, Grant and Stewart, as well as some really excellent performances by the other actors.  For instance the sassy younger sister Dinah Lord, played by child star Virginia Weidler. Dinah has a great line when her mother tells her that her dress is riding up in the back. Dinah looks back at her dress and says, ” no its me that does“.  And there is Roland Young as  the dirty old Uncle Willy. Doesn’t everybody have one in their family? The uncle who is always mixing the drinks and pinching the girls.

Philly Story grant-hepburnKatharine  Hepburn is delightful as the spirited heiress who married Cary Grant’s C.K. Dexter Haven for love and passion, but  wants to marry the ‘right‘ man this time around. She kicked him out for what is called a “deep and abiding thirst“.  Now she is marrying George Kittage, man of the people. A guy who worked his way up from the so-called lower class. There was a lot of talk about classes  in those days. What makes The Philadelphia Story a great romantic comedy is the quick and witty banter between Hepburn and Grant as the battling exes. The chemistry between Grant and Hepburn is wonderful. They have great comic timing. Probably from working together on other movies like Bringing Up Baby and Holiday (also directed by George Cukor).  Tracy Lord could have been just another spoiled rich girl, but in Katharine Hepburn’s hands, she shows that even an heiress has depth and substance. Which should have been easy for Miss Hepburn, since she grew up in a wealthy Connecticut family herself.

C. K. Dexter Haven: Sometimes, for your own sake, Red, I think you should’ve stuck to me longer. 

Tracy Lord : I thought it was for life, but the nice judge gave me a full pardon.

Gary Grant is charming, of course. What else would you expect from Cary? But as C.K. Dexter Haven (Dext for short), he is a reformed drunk trying to earn a somewhat honest living as a journalist for a sleazy tabloid. But don’t get mad with Dext. He had good reasons for bringing tabloid reporters to his ex-wife’s wedding. Ask her philandering father. Dexter’s publisher had some incriminating photos of the father. So he is not the bad guy we  thought he was.

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Then there is Jimmy Stewart’s Macaulay Connor, the failed writer begrudgingly working at Spy Magazine (the sleazy tabloid). Jimmy Stewart is at his easy-going best in this movie, for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Mac has a certain disdain for the upper classes that causes him to bump heads with Tracy at first. But eventually he comes to realize that despite her wealth, Tracy Lord is a not the snob he thinks she is.

The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges. –Macaulay Connor

Unsure about her upcoming wedding and a bit flustered by the sudden appearance of her ex-husband, Tracy flirts with Mac. And after a bit too much (well a lot too much) champagne at her engagement party and a midnight flirtation at the pool, Tracy and Mac start tongues a-waggin’. Even little Dinah gets the wrong message. But as in most classic romantic comedies, everyone ends up with the right person at the end.

Champagne’s funny stuff. I’m used to whiskey. Whiskey is a slap on the back, and champagne’s heavy mist before my eyes.–Macaulay Connor

The Philadelphia Story is one of my all time favorites, with three of my favorite actors doing what they do best. It is a classic romantic comedy,  full of witty dialogue.  If you have not seen this wonderful, I encourage your to watch it. I am sure you will love it as much as I do.

Next in the Essential Classic Chick Flicks Series: Sabrina

About Clara Mathews

Clarabela (Clara Mathews) is freelance web content copywriter, professional blogger and Hugh Jackman fan. In addition to writing about her love of movies at JustChickFlicks.com, Clarabela is also a regular contributor to DignityZine.  Follow Just Chick Flicks on Facebook.

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    […] have written about The Philadelphia Story and my favorite Tracy – Hepburn films in previous blog posts. How can begin any […]