Film Flick: The Philadelphia Story

Monday, June 17, 2013


At the end of filming  Bringing Up Baby, it seemed that Katherine Hepburn's movie career was at an end. The RKO forced her to buy out her contract, and with that she headed to New York to try out the Great White Way. Lucky for her, she was friends with the right people. One wrote a play for her, and the other "friend," Howard Hughes, bought her the movie rights before the play ever saw the curtians go up. After opening night, the play, called The Philadelphia Story, was a smash hit. Studios were looking at it as film fodder. Always a smart operator, Hepburn said nothing, letting it become apparent with time that she had control over this property. It was then she marched right into MGM offices.

"Will you do it?" was the first thing asked by L.B. Mayor, the studio head. No need to even specify what "it" was. Yes, she would do it- in exchange for getting Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy (who, at the time, she had yet to meet), to co-star.

"I don't think they'll do it."

"Ask anyway." was her dry response.

As predicted, Tracy and Gable turned down the parts, but Mayor offered her Jimmy Stewart, and her choice of director instead, and also said that she could have any man she could convince for the other male lead. Perfect. She brought in personal friend, and famous "women's" director, George Cuckor, and gave Cary Grant his choice of parts. Both had also been part of the production Bringing up Baby, and it would be Hepburn and Grant's fourth and final time paired together. What a way to go out with a bang.

Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is about to be married again! But a series of uninvited guests stir up some unexpected feelings when first her ex-husband Dexter (Cary Grant), then her woman-chasing father, then his scandals, and then journalists (including Jimmy Stewart) looking for the scandals arrive at her doorstep mere days before wedding bells are meant to ring. The journalists agree not to squeal about dirt they got on Dad in exchange for an exclusive look at this socialite event. As the entire household struggles to present them a "perfect picture,"  everyone seems to be taking turns tearing Tracy down or praising her to high heavens. An ex-husband, a husband-to-be, a father who can't remember how to be a husband, and now a certain journalist with a certain twinkle in his eye?It's an ending that might surprise you, but no matter what the journalists write up, audiences will be certain to love The Philadelphia Story. 

The film was a smash- miles away from how the trio's previous film was received.  The intelligent story and obvious chemistry between the actors all helped, but in my mind it is Hepburn that truly makes the film. In many ways, Tracy Lord is Katherine Hepburn (or rather is one of the best crystallizations of her movie persona). She's take-charge, in trousers (definitely not de rigeur fashion! In real life the studio often threatened to take away Hepburn's "dungarees!"), opinionated, and almost too intellectual, but with heart underneath that veneer. Such a strong leading lady will make audiences sure to love this, so pull up a chair and start watching!

4 comments

  1. Bringing up Baby is one of my favorite comedies. :-) It's been a long time since I saw Philadelphia Story - I remember I didn't care for it much - I'll have to give it another try!

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    1. I feel like Katherine Hepburn's characters often get picked on a bit in her movies, which does happen some in the Philadelphia story, but I find Grant and Stewarts so charming. Would love to see what you think after another try...

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  2. Oh, I've wanted to see this for a while, I'm so glad you did a review on it! My sister recommended it to me but I haven't had a chance to watch it yet. It's definitely at the top of my list. I love Katherine-I didn't know her wearing pants was a controversy-that's what makes her awesome in my mind-that she took risks!

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    1. You will love the Philadelphia story. One of my favorites from her.

      Thank goodness Hepburn continued insisting on wearing pants and blazing the trail for ladies like us though, right? I love her in slacks :)

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