The Philadelphia Story

* * * * *

Classy, quickfire uppercrust comedy

Image of The Philadelphia Story

George Cukor / US / 1940 / 112mins

Available on Blu-ray now.

Toffs in torment – it’s practically a film genre in itself. From Marlene Dietrich the empress of ennui to countless remakes of The Great Gatsby there’s nothing nicer than seeing the upper class being unhappy.

We are amid the horsey set with its mansions and pools and stables – the privileged enjoying their privileges. Tracy Samantha Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is the society heiress on the eve of her wedding to the self-made millionaire George (John Howard). But who turns up but her newly divorced husband (Cary Grant). There’s an annoying know-all kid sister (Virginia Weidler), fussing mother (Mary Nash) and philandering father (John Halliday) to contend with and two prying representatives of a gossip mag (Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey) who have been promised backstage passes to the wedding of the year if they don’t write about the patriarch and his showgirl.

Who can resist seeing these over-privileged American Gods plop off their perch? There are laugh-out-loud moments and quotable one-liners (the literate script is by Donald Ogden Stewart based on Philip Barry‘s play) and thought-provoking observations. Says dad to the haughty Tracy: “you have everything you need to make a lovely woman except one essential: an understanding heart and without that you might as well be made of bronze.” But, cynical to the last, she’s not budging: “the time to make your mind up about people is never,” she says. Pretensions are skewered and bubbles of self-delusion are beautifully burst along the way.

The finely chiselled Hepburn in a succession of crisply-tailored Adrian ensembles is the fulcrum around which everything and everyone pivots. And while the sexes battle on there is a question – is Tracy Lord marrying the right man?

Every so often a film comes along that is matchless – a combination of casting, acting, direction, locations, wardrobe, music, script… and The Philadelphia Story is one such. Cukor was in his element and the photography (Joseph Ruttenberg) is beautifully represented in this Blu-ray.