When a rich woman's ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself.
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The Philadelphia Story brings together three iconic actors in one film; Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and James Stewart in a romantic comedy that allows all three to stand toe to toe in scenes that are emotionally captivating, witty and engaging. While Tracey Lords (Hepburn) attempts to move on from her failed marriage with C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), her ex husband has plans of his own and brings in journalists Macauley Connor (Stewart) and Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) for exclusive photos of the socialite’s wedding. However, unexpectedly Connor falls in love with Tracey, much to the frustration of Dexter, and the game of tug of war for Tracy’s affection begins.
Prior to the film’s production, Katherine Hepburn was struggling to maintain the box office glory she once had. Hepburn’s films gradually became less successful and she was in dire need of a hit. Originally, Hepburn wanted to cast Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable for the roles of Connor and Dexter. However, when both declined, she turned to Grant and Stewart who were both audience favorites at the time.
Cary Grant had a choice between the two male roles and decided to choose the one with less screen time as long as he received top billing and a higher paycheck of $100,000 dollars. While that may not seem a lot now, at that time, it was a huge salary for any celebrity. Interesting to note though, Grant donated a portion of his money to the British soldiers involved in World War II.
The Philadelphia Story brought life back into Katherine Hepburn’s flagging career prompting an Academy Award nomination, and despite losing, her nomination was well deserved. She reminded audiences with her compelling performance her range as an actress but also showed a business savvy mind producing the film. Cary Grant and James Stewart were also excellent, both providing fine performances that supported why audiences adored them both.
The film even brought Stewart his first Oscar win for his supporting role. However, many speculated that Stewart received the award to make up for his lost for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a film he was nominated for the previous year. Despite the reasons, Stewart is an American icon whose talent and range as an actor can hardly be summed up in one award. But all three actors, including Ruth Hussey, are at the top of their game and deliver some memorable scenes.
One in particular comes from the beginning of the film as we see Grant moving out of his home with Hepburn, supposedly after their divorce. Just as he’s leaving, Hepburn breaks his golf clubs, expensive ones most likely, forcing Grant to respond by pushing her down. It was a great moment that set the tone for the rest of the film. The chemistry between Grant and Hepburn is only matched with that of Hepburn and Stewart who consume every scene with their palpable romance.
In addition, Hussey’s one liners whenever she notices, or even feels threatened by the ensuing romance between her colleague and Tracy are a delight as well. That’s part of the appeal and success of The Philadelphia Story because the dialogue is witty and sharp. Director George Cukor creates a dynamic film in which he allows the talented cast to bring to the table their skills as artists while allowing them to have fun with the material, as he should. This is the only film where all three star together, so the opportunity to see them in one film with their differing yet complementary styles is certainly worth watching.