Review: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

>> Sunday, February 18, 2007

USA/B&W-112m./Dir: George Cukor/Wr: David Ogden Stewart/Cast: Katherine Hepburn (Tracy Lord), Cary Grant (C.K. Dexter Haven), James Stewart (Macaulay Connor), Ruth Hussey (Elizabeth Imbrie), John Howard (George Kittredge)

Kate Hepburn portrays Tracy Samantha Lord, a cold fish divorcee of the socialite set in 1940’s The Philadelphia Story. The film centers around Tracy’s impending second wedding, which is complicated by the arrival of her first husband (Grant) and a couple of society reporters (Stewart and Hussey). With the help of the unexpected guests and buckets full of bubbly, Tracy learns a few things about herself and about the man she is about to marry.

Hepburn had a tremendous hit on Broadway with The Philadelphia Story, and she slyly bought the film rights to assure that she would play the part in the movie version. She was also allowed to hand-pick her co-stars, and she selected the best of the best in Grant and Stewart. Although this is truly Hepburn’s movie, Jimmy Stewart completely steals the film as a fish-out-of-water journalist. His drunken scenes in the picture’s second half are not only laugh-out-loud hilarious, they are the primary reason I’d recommend the film.

To be sure, The Philadelphia Story is a classic of the cinema, soused or otherwise. However, I’d argue that it’s a minor classic. The film is nowhere near as fun as the dizzy romantic comedies in which Hepburn and Grant had previously starred, and the theatrical origins of the story are obvious in its talky, overwritten dialogue. The film also commits the cardinal sin of hiring Cary Grant, the finest light comedian the movies ever produced, and giving him too little to do. Worst of all, Hepburn’s character is such a spoiled snot that it’s difficult to understand why her leading men are so spellbound by her. Still, I have to admit Tracy Lord doesn’t seem half bad when she’s fully sozzled on champagne.

Drinks Consumed--Sherry, martinis (gin and vermouth), and champagne

Intoxicating Effects--slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, hiccups, increased libido, hangover, and memory blackouts

Potent Quotables--CONNOR: Is that an alcoholic beverage?
DEXTER: Yes, why?
CONNOR: For me?
DEXTER: No, it’s for Tracy. Why, do you want one?
CONNOR: Listen, I’d sell my grandmother for a drink. You know how I love my grandmother.
DEXTER: Well, Uncle Willie’s around in the pantry doing weird and wonderful things. Tell him I said one of the same.
CONNOR: Mind if I make it two?
DEXTER: That’s between you and your grandmother.

Video Availability--The Philadelphia Story DVD (Warner Brothers)

Similarly Sauced Cinema
--Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra share cocktails and a fascination for Grace Kelly in High Society (1956), the musical remake of The Philadelphia Story.


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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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