The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Description[from Freebase]

The Philadelphia Story is a 1940 American romantic comedy film directed by George Cukor, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart and featuring Ruth Hussey. Based on the Broadway play of the same name by Philip Barry, the film is about a socialite (Hepburn) whose wedding plans are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband (Grant) and a tabloid magazine journalist (Stewart). Written for the screen by Donald Ogden Stewart and an uncredited Waldo Salt, it is considered one of the best examples of a comedy of remarriage, a genre popular in the 1930s and 1940s, in which a couple divorce, flirt with outsiders and then remarry – a useful story-telling ploy at a time when the depiction of extramarital affairs was blocked by the Production Code. The film was Hepburn's first big hit following several flops, which had led to her being included on a 1939 list that Manhattan movie theater owner Harry Brandt compiled of actors he considered to be "box office poison." She acquired the film rights to the play, which she had also starred in, with the help of Howard Hughes, in order to control it as a vehicle for her movie comeback.

Review

No self-respecting film snob would speak ill of George Cukor’s classic romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story, with its three major stars (plus the overlooked Ruth Hussey), rat-a-tat dialogue, hairpin plotting, and delightful humor. And so it’s my turn — what have I got to say for myself?

Not much that hasn’t already been said. I fall in line with the conventional wisdom that Philadelphia is one of the smartest comedies you’ll find. At the film’s opening, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) and Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) are seen in the midst of their breakup. Fast-forward a few years and Tracy’s engaged again, and Dexter shows up with two Spy magazine reporters (James Stewart and Hussey), determined to throw a wrench into things.

It doesn’t take long before Stewart’s Connor has fallen for Tracy, Tracy’s got three guys to choose from, and everyone’s dead drunk on the day of the wedding.

The film’s wild pace makes it impossible to get bored, even when the story turns a tad trite (love triangles, surprise ending, you know the drill). But everyone and everything about the film is mostly perfect, and what the movie ultimately says about the nature of love is still prescient. (Anyone who thinks the machinations here are overly contrived should consider Jennifer Lopez’s virtual recreation of the film in her personal life.)

The film earned six Oscar nominations and two wins — for James Stewart and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart — and is now available on a two-disc DVD set, with historical commentary track, documentaries, short films, and a pair of radio adaptations.

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