The Philadelphia Story (1940)

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.