August Blind Spot: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

PhiladelphiaStoryPoster

Instead of a straight review, this post is more of my reaction of the movie and the cast, so I’m going to include some observations as well as trivia from IMDb.

There’s been a lot of ‘firsts’ with some of the Blindspot movies I saw. Well, with this one, it’s a lot of ‘seconds.’ It’s the second George Cukor film I saw (the first was My Fair Lady, but I’m not counting Gone With the Wind as he was fired early on from his directing duties) and it’s also the second Cary Grant + Katharine Hepburn film I saw after Bringing Up Baby.

It is however, the first time I saw both Cary Grant AND Jimmy Stewart in a movie together and honestly, that’s the main draw for me. I was also curious because this movie was regarded as one of the best rom-coms, in fact it ranked #5 on the AFI’s list of 10 greatest films in that genre. Well, now that I’ve seen it, I think it’s an enjoyable movie but it wasn’t GREAT by any means, in fact it got a bit silly at times and Stewart seems awkward in some of the scenes and not as effortless in comedy as Grant was. That’s why I was  surprised that Stewart actually won Best Actor that year, say what? Well, apparently the actor himself was shocked as well. According to IMDb, ‘Stewart never felt he deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, especially since he had initially felt miscast. He always maintained that Henry Fonda should have won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and that the award was probably “deferred payment for my work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”.’ Yep, I totally agree Stewart should’ve won for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which was another Blindspot film I saw earlier this year (read my review).

PhiladelphiaStory1

Now, for those who haven’t seen the film, the film is about a socialite, Tracy Lord (Hepburn) whose wedding plans to nouveau riche George Kittredge (John Howard) are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) and a tabloid magazine journalist Macaulay Connor (Stewart). The movie didn’t immediately click with me, which I often find with some classic films I saw, but fortunately it got a bit more engrossing as the film progressed. One reason I didn’t click with the movie right away could be because I couldn’t quite warm up to Hepburn. Yes I know she’s one of Hollywood’s best actresses and the most decorated with 12 nominations and four wins (WOW!), but out of the three films I saw her in, I find that she’s not immediately sympathetic. I mean there are other actresses who often play strong independent women with minds of their own, but they somehow still have a certain vulnerability and even warmth about them that I don’t quite see in Hepburn.

In any case, the movie itself is enjoyable enough, but lack the emotional resonance I felt with say, The Apartment or Roman Holiday. The actors are fun to watch as they’re bantering with one another, but I feel somewhat detached from them that it was hard for me to care about any of them. So for most of the movie, I was busy admiring the gorgeous costume design, especially all Hepburn’s dressed designed by Adrian.

PhiladelphiaStoryCostume

Hepburn had such a svelte figure that everything looked good on her, I especially love the Grecian dress she wore when she was dancing with Stewart by the pool. The transparent silk organza dress with string tie belt she wore in the finale [see above, bottom left] is my favorite as it looks ethereal and elegant, and it fits Hepburn so beautifully.

The chemistry between her and her male co-stars are ok, I think she seems most comfortable with Grant which is perhaps why they often do a film together. What I do enjoy more than the romance is the scenes of Grant and Stewart together. They seem to have a good rapport as they play off each other well. Just seeing these two biggest classic male superstars together is amusing enough, but the two have quite different styles of acting which made it even more fun to watch.

PhiladelphiaStory2

The scene where Stewart got the hiccups as he was drunk is pretty hilarious. I could tell Grant was amused and at times he looked like he was about to burst out laughing. As it turns out, the hiccup was improvised and Stewart didn’t tell Grant ahead of time, hence Grant’s natural amused reaction. LOVE it!

PhiladelphiaStory3

The supporting cast is pretty good, I thought Virginia Weidler is so darn cute as Tracy’s smart-alecky teenage sister and Ruth Hussey as the sardonic photographer who’s not-so-secretly in love with Stewart’s character.

SPOILER ALERT! [I figure I might not be the only one who hasn’t seen this] Now the movie ends in happy ending of course. And the trouble with seeing tons of still photos of the wedding scene before I finally saw it, I kind of know how it’d end so there’s no surprise there. Still it was pretty sweet, I think that’s probably the only dramatic moment in the entire film as the camera pans to both Grant and Hussey’s look of dismay as Stewart’s character proposed to Hepburn’s.

PhiladelphiaStory_Wedding

Final Thoughts: The high-society type comedies are pretty amusing to me and having three major movie stars certainly didn’t hurt, but for some reason I just wasn’t wowed by it. I know I’m in the minority as seems like everyone else LOVED this movie. I wish I loved it more but hey, it is what it is. That said, I’m glad I finally saw it and I’m still curious to see more work from all three actors. This movie is apparently based on a Broadway production and I think this story might actually work better on stage. I just saw Noël Coward’s 1930s comedy of manners Private Lives starring Toby Stephens & Anna Chancellor, I’d imagine the battle of the sexes with all the witty repartee would be similar to that. So overall the movie an enjoyable farce, but not exactly a comedic masterpiece it’s made out to be.

3.5 reels


BlindSpotSeriesSidebarCheck out my previous 2014 Blind Spot reviews


So have you seen The Philadelphia Story? I’m curious to hear what you think!

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25 thoughts on “August Blind Spot: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

  1. I’m going to cry. Like, I’m really going to cry. This movie is utter perfection!!!! Stewart stole Grant’s Oscar, because he really should have been nominated and won for this, but that quibble aside, this movie is just amazing! So light and frothy and full of splendid comic relief and a beautifully woven love triangle that feels fresh and delightfully focused, even by today’s standards. I’m so sad that you don’t adore this!

    1. Sorry! I wish I could love it more and I really thought I would given the Grant/Stewart combo. I know lots of people will disagree w/ me on this one, but that’s ok, can’t always agree on everything 😉

  2. I actually have never seen this! It does seem the cast would be the main draw, though Cukor has obviously put out some great films as well. Too bad it disappointed, though.

  3. I believe I haven’t seen this yet. It’s on the list. Give you my opinion soon hopefully. Don’t feel bad about not totally digging this movie. Hepburn’s best chemistry was with Spencer Tracy anyway. Her and Bogey in The African Queen wasn’t too shabby either.

    1. Hi Dave, I think I’m just not into Hepburn in general, tho I’m still curious to see her other films, esp the one w/ Tracy as it’s her real-life love.

      1. Well if you want to see her best see The African Queen (Bogey), Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? (Poitier, Tracy), The Lion In Winter (O’Toole) and anything really with Tracy . She was quite the rare actress. Strong, intellectual, comedic, stylish, outspoken, independent… It would be safe to say there wasn’t anyone quite like her. Certainly not in Hollywood.

        1. I get the strong, intellectual and outspoken part but comedic? I’m not sure. I guess I need to see more of her work but from the 3 I’ve seen (including Lion in Winter), I wouldn’t say she’s my favorite actress. It’s all subjective of course, and I can see why some adore her.

  4. Possibly my favorite romantic comedy of all time. I love this movie to death. I really did like the chemistry and for me the silliness is part of its charm. I laugh my bottom off.

    1. Yeah I think it’s a lot of ppl’s faves. I wish I could say the same Keith, but I don’t find it all that funny or charming, though it certainly has its moments.

  5. A great film; it’s not hard for me to sweep away the “periodness” of the plot and dialogue and enjoy the silliness. I do understand, though. I really love the expressions and the speed at which these stars banter back and forth.

    1. Some of the banters are amusing, I especially like seeing Grant and Stewart together but I think it’s because they both are such iconic actors.

  6. Glad you liked it, Ruth. The hiccups scene is one of all-time favorites, as is the film. I like Stewart’s performance, but I think Grant, Hepburn and Hussey are better here. Actually, Hussey gives my favorite supporting actress performance of all time. She’s witty, but she also has some wonderful subtle moments in her performance that’ve stuck out on repeat viewings. For me, it’s a flawless, scene-stealing performance.

    1. The hiccup scene had me laughing, that was a hoot. I do like Hussey tho she’s not on screen that much. What other movies has she been in? This was the first time I saw her.

  7. Like many others have mentioned, it’s good to know you enjoyed the film (Lord knows I don’t want this series to become like eating vegetables). As I read your thoughts, I wondered now and then if you might have been overthinking it a little. To consider the result, we need to consider the intent. With a film like PHILADELPHIA STORY, the intent isn’t to make a cutting statement like it is in THE GRAPES OF WRATH…it’s merely to distract, amuse and entertain.

    Seems to me that you were distracted, amused, and entertained…so we could probably call the film a success, right?

    I don’t mean any of this to sound like a critique of your critique (since that would be really dumb of me)…just as food for thought. In general…when we go into a film, new or old, what are we looking to come away with? What are we asking our films to do?

    Y’know?

    1. Hi Ryan, hmmm I don’t think I was over-thinking this. I wasn’t expecting a movie with a great message or anything, so I was looking for a fun entertainment. It is a rom-com after all. But I didn’t find this to be all that romantic nor comedic, and despite some amusing moments, in the end it didn’t make me think ‘oh wow, what a great movie!’ So on that front I didn’t give it a high score, that’s fair right? I mean there are other classic films that I found more engaging and heart-warming, i.e. The Apartment, It Happened One Night as two examples of other Blindspot films I saw this year. Going in I didn’t know if I would like a movie or not, regardless of its reputation. Ultimately I have to judge a film on its own merit and not be influenced by its ranking on AFI or what have you.

      P.S. I don’t feel like I need to defend my opinion so this is just a response to your comment. Cheers! 😀

  8. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    Excellent choice and dissertation!

    Always liked and admired Jimmy Stewart in this film. Kind of the slow talking, odd man out between Hepburn and Grant. In a well balanced film that meshes comedy, rapid patter between Hepburn and Grant. And subtle romance from Mr. Stewart.

    Nicely done!

  9. Pingback: 2014 Recap: Ranking the 10 Blindspot Movies I saw in 2014 |

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