I tell people sometimes that this is my favourite movie, and invariably, whomever I'm speaking with says, "the one where Tom Hanks has AIDS?" I smile, and say "no, not that one - this one was made in 1940." At which point said person decides not to talk to me about movies anymore. Understandable, I suppose.

The story is about a high-class Philadelphia family, the Lords, and the marriage of their eldest daughter, Tracy. The press desperately wants in on this wedding, because of Tracy's high status and her scandalous past - she was previously married, and divorced in a rage, one C.K. Dexter Haven. So what happens when a reporter and photographer get into the Lord household on the pretense of being friends of the family? What happens when Tracy finds out about them? What happens when C.K. Dexter Haven returns for the wedding of his ex-bride? Oh... and most importantly... What happens when they all get deliriously drunk the night before the wedding?

This is a comedy with some fairly serious undertones about class stereotypes, and media intrusion. Guess they even had it way back then. Eat your heart out National Inquirer. Other than a great story, what makes this movie so remarkable is the cast. Everyone in this movie was fantastic. Even the minor characters shone.

Katherine Hepburn - Tracy Lord
James Stewart - Macaulay (Mike) Connor (he won an Oscar for this role)
Cary Grant - C.K. Dexter Haven
Ruth Hussey - Elizabeth Imbrie
John Howard - George Kitterage
Roland Young - Uncle Willie
Virginia Weidler - Dinah Lord
John Halliday - Seth Lord
Mary Nash - Margaret Lord
Henry Daniell - Sidney Kidd

The film was directed by George Cukor
Written by Philip Barry and Donald Ogden Stewart

By 1938, Katharine Hepburn had been declared box office poison in the trades by theatre owners, who were pressuring studios not to use her in films. Her unconventional looks and her preference for playing strong women made her atypical of Hollywood starlets, and with a no-nonsense attitude refusal to play at celebrity (preferring to dress casually offscreen), she developed reputation of being mannish and arrogant. She left RKO and headed for New York, where Philip Barry wrote a play for her, basing the main character on her own personality. The Philadelphia Story ran for two years on Broadway.

She acquired the movie rights (thanks to buddy Howard Hughes), then turned around and sold them to MGM on the condition that she was the star and had the choice of director and co-stars. She'd take no salary, but 45% of the profits. George Cukor, who had directed her in 4 previous movies, was an easy decision. His work with women and matching stars' personalities with strong performances, was insurance that this movie would be a strong comeback for her, and it was a box office hit.

Two (of many) notable scenes:

  • Virginia Weidler launches into a spirited rendition of Lydia the Tattooed Lady;
  • An unscripted ad-lib caught on camera, when Cary Grant reacts to Jimmy Stewart's hiccup. If you look closely, you can see both actors start to break character and laugh, then contain themselves.
The movie won Oscars for best screenplay (to Donald Ogden Stewart), and Jimmy Stewart took home the Oscar for best actor (often thought to be a consolation prize for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939), Hepburn, nominated for best actress, lost out to Ginger Rogers. Also nominated were Cukor (Director), Ruth Hussey (Supporting Actress) and MGM (Best Picture).

The script was later remade into a Cole Porter musical, High Society, for Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Grace Kelly.

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