44 – The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Tracy Lord: Dexter, would you mind doing something for me?
C. K. Dexter Haven: Anything. What?
Tracy Lord: Get the heck out of here.
Seen before?

F: Another one that’s new to me.

R: Likewise.



F: Well this has one of the strongest casts I think we’re going to see in this list! And I do think all the main stars – Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart – are all on top form here.

R: Agreed. If you could only choose one film to watch to check out the acting talent of this generation, this would be a good pick. And for me the star-studded cast helped keep the love triangle (square/ pentagon) interesting. In some films it’s obvious that the two biggest stars will end up together, whereas here I was kept guessing right up to the end.

F: I read that Cary Grant demanded top billing which explains why his name is top of the credits but there are big chunks of this where he isn’t on screen. But I do think he steals the scenes he is in.

R: I guess at this point Jimmy Stewart hadn’t yet become the massive star he went on to be, so I can see the logic of that decision. Personally though I’d say Katherine Hepburn gives the most memorable performance of the bunch. She works the contradictions and ambiguity of her character superbly.

F: I’m certainly warming to her after Bringing Up Baby. She was good in The African Queen but much more lively here which I like. I was worried she was going to stray into annoying territory but she toed that line well. Did the story seem a bit far-fetched to you?

R: I’d call it fanciful. But most stories worth telling will have elements that could be called “far-fetched” – the important thing is that there’s some logical consistency to the characters and the world they operate in. We have that here I think, at least enough to roll with it on a first viewing.

F: I actually enjoyed some of the more absurd elements of the story. I was happy enough to go along with it but some of the story didn’t work for me when I look back on it. I guess it was a different time!

R: What specifically are you thinking of?

F: The fact she’s basically willing to marry three men in the space of one day! And some of the conversation feels very fake. But as I said, I’m more than willing to go along with the film and forgive it these points.

R: I think they establish well enough that Tracy’s way of looking at the world is a bit confused – and to be fair there are only two men she seriously considers marrying. But I get where you’re coming from. I take issue with you criticising the dialogue for being fake though. No film from this era has dialogue that’s naturalistic, but here it is very smart and witty.

F: Perhaps but it’s still true that no one talks in this way. And I definitely agree it’s very smart dialogue. Is there anything you disliked?

R: The story itself is a little bit twee, isn’t it? But I think that’s probably inevitable given its age. We’re talking about a time when extramarital affairs weren’t allowed to be shown on screen!

F: Did this film change that then? Without anything been shown, it’s quite clear the relationship between some of these characters.

R: Yeah, I think this was probably pushing the window about as far as they thought they could get away with at the time.

F: Overall, I think that, despite its great cast and witty script, I expected more from this film.

R: Yes, you do probably need to make some allowances for the fact it’s 77 years old.


Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: I feel there was something missing. Can’t quite put my finger on what but it doesn’t quite make the top 100 for me.

R: I really enjoyed it but if you want a romantic comedy from this era I’d recommend It Happened One Night (1934), Swing Time (1936) or Sullivan’s Travels (1941) ahead of this.


Up next:
43 – Midnight Cowboy (1969)
45 – Shane (1953)

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