The Philadelphia Story should be seen alone for the legendary trio of actors which headline the film: Cary Grant. Katherine Hepburn. James Stewart. Even if the film stunk – which it doesn’t – simply watching them together on screen is worth the price of admission (or DVD purchase in this case).
However, fortunately for us, the films immense acting talent is backed by an excellent screenplay by Waldo Salt and Donald Ogden Stewart (based on Philip Barry’s play) and skilful direction from George Cukor.
The plot is as follows: high maintenance idealist and socialite Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is set to marry husband number two George Kittredge (John Howard), in what has been dubbed as the social event of the year. Unknown to her, ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) - in what is believed to be an act of vengeance – has helped struggling writer turned trash journalist Macaulay Connor (James Stewart). infiltrate the highly private ceremony in order to cover the wedding for a gossip magazine.
Wise to their act, Lord decides to have some fun with the unsuspecting Connor and Haven, yet inadvertently falls in love with both men in the process.
In turn, The Philadelphia Story becomes a part romantic comedy, part satire on the relationship between celebrities and the media, part light drama, and all around timeless classic, which features several memorable scenes staged superbly by Cukor, and engrossingly funny and touching dialogue delivered with the upmost naturality by its actors.
Katharine Hepburn delivers a truly magnificent and amusing performance as a described goddess who surprises those around her, by revealing a fun and sensitive side to her personality not seen before. This is also true in the case of Hepburn herself, whose natural snobbery worked well for her character (which was based upon her persona) .while her comedic talents won over a new slew of fans and the trust of studio executives who branded her “box office poison” due to her unlikeable public persona.
James Stewart is equally brilliant as the novelist who despises his job and the rich with equal measure. His lanky goofiness works a treat, especially in a scene where a drunken Stewart almost makes an unsuspecting Grant laugh himself silly with his improvised touches.
The chemistry between Hepburn and Stewart is off the charts, and is enhanced further when Grant joins them to make a formidable trio, with Grant effectively playing the straight man to Hepburn’s and Stewart’s flashier roles.
Supporting character are cast and performed admirably, especially by Ruth Hussey who plays Stewarts want to be lover, and the young Virginia Weilder who is show stopping fun as Hepburn’s younger, mischievous sister.
Fun. That would be the operative word to describe The Philadelphia Story. Also add ageless, quintessential, and entertaining to the mix.