Florida Theatre Summer Classics: The Philadelphia Story

July 28, 2012 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The wonderful era of Silver Screen Classics was never better served than by the light grace of The Philadelphia Story. Besides inspiring Graydon Carter to name his notorious 80s era classic magazine "SPY", it continues to amuse audiences even today. Join us for more details below the fold!

“The Philadelphia Story”
Ticket Prices: $7.50 (Single Admission); $45 (Movie Card for 10 Admissions – Save $30!)
All Shows start at 2pm.

1940, 112 Minutes, Black and White

The Philadelphia Story is a 1940 American romantic comedy film directed by George Cukor, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart and featuring Ruth Hussey. Based on the Broadway play of the same name by Philip Barry, the film is about a socialite (Hepburn) whose wedding plans are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband (Grant) and a tabloid magazine journalist (Stewart). Written for the screen by Donald Ogden Stewart and an uncredited Waldo Salt, it is considered one of the best examples of a comedy of remarriage, a genre popular in the 1930s and 1940s, in which a couple divorce, flirt with outsiders and then remarry – a useful story-telling ploy at a time when the depiction of extramarital affairs was blocked by the Production Code.

The film was Hepburn's first big hit following several flops, which had led to her being included on a 1939 list that Manhattan movie theater owner Harry Brandt compiled of actors he considered to be "box office poison." She acquired the film rights to the play, which she had also starred in, with the help of Howard Hughes, in order to control it as a vehicle for her movie comeback.

The Philadelphia Story was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two: Stewart for Best Actor and Donald Ogden Stewart for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was remade in 1956 as the musical High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong.

The movie was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1995.

Broadway playwright Philip Barry wrote The Philadelphia Story specifically for Katharine Hepburn, who ended up backing the play, and foregoing a salary in return for a percentage of the play's profits. Co-starring with Hepburn on Broadway were Joseph Cotten as "C.K. Dexter Haven", Van Heflin as "Macauley Connor", with Shirley Booth as "Liz Imbrie".

Hoping to create a film vehicle for herself which would erase the label of "box office poison" that the Independent Theatre Owners of America had put on her after a number of commercial failures (including the classic Bringing Up Baby), Hepburn happily accepted the film rights to the play from Howard Hughes who had bought them for her. She then convinced MGM's Louis B. Mayer to buy them from her for only $250,000 in return for Hepburn having veto over producer, director, screenwriter and cast.

George Cukor, (left) Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.

Hepburn selected director George Cukor, whose A Bill of Divorcement (1932) and Little Women (1933) she had acted in, and Donald Ogden Stewart, a friend of Barry's and a specialist at adapting plays to the big screen, as writer.

Hepburn wanted Clark Gable for the Dexter Haven role and Spencer Tracy as Macauley Connor, but both had other commitments. Grant agreed to play the part on condition that he be given top billing and that his salary would be $137,000, which he donated to the British War Relief Society. The pairing of Cukor and Clark Gable would have been problematic in any case, as they had not gotten along on the recent Gone with the Wind, and Cukor had been replaced with Victor Fleming.

The Philadelphia Story was in production from 5 July to 14 August 1940 at MGM's studios in Culver City. The film was shot in eight weeks and came in five days under schedule. At one point, James Stewart slipped in his hiccuping during the drunk scene. Grant turned to him, surprised, and said "Excuse me," then appears to stifle a laugh. The scene was kept and was not reshot.

Stewart had been extremely nervous about the scene in which Connor recites poetry to Tracy and believed that he would perform badly. Noël Coward was visiting the set that day and was asked by Cukor to say something to encourage him. Stewart was also quite uncomfortable with some of the dialogue, especially in the swimming pool scene.

Hepburn performed the dive into the swimming pool entirely by herself without the help from doubles. Forty years later, during the filming of On Golden Pond, Jane Fonda was frightened to do her own dive, to which the annoyed Hepburn responded, "I did my own dive in The Philadelphia Story."

Story Line

Tracy Samantha Lord Haven (Katharine Hepburn) is a wealthy Main Line Philadelphia socialite who had divorced C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), a member of her social set, because he did not measure up to her exacting standards. (He was an alcoholic, and her lack of faith in him exacerbated his condition.) She is about to marry nouveau riche "man of the people" George Kittredge (John Howard).

Spy magazine publisher Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell) is eager to cover the wedding, and he enlists Dexter, one of his former employees, to introduce reporter Macaulay "Mike" Connor (James Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) as friends of the family so they can report on the wedding. Tracy is not fooled but reluctantly agrees to let them stay—after Dexter explains that Kidd has an innuendo-laden article about Tracy's father, Seth, who, Tracy believes, is having an affair with a dancer. Though Seth is separated from Tracy's mother Margaret and Tracy harbors great resentment against him, she wants to protect her family's reputation.

Dexter is welcomed back with open arms by Margaret and Dinah, Tracy's teenage sister—much to Tracy's annoyance. In addition, Tracy gradually discovers that Mike has admirable qualities, and she even takes the trouble to find his published stories in the library. Thus, as the wedding nears, Tracy finds herself torn between her fiancé, her ex-husband, and the reporter.

The night before the wedding, Tracy gets drunk for only the second time in her life and takes an innocent swim with Mike. When George sees Mike carrying an intoxicated Tracy into the house afterward, he thinks the worst. The next day, he tells her that he was shocked and feels entitled to an explanation before going ahead with the wedding. Tracy takes exception to his lack of faith in her and breaks off the engagement. Then she realizes that all the guests have arrived and are waiting for the ceremony to begin. Mike volunteers to marry her (much to Liz's distress), but Tracy graciously declines. At this point, Dexter makes his bid for her hand, which she accepts.

See the Film on the big screen at the Florida Theatre Sunday Afternoon
 July 29, 2012 2:00 pm
$7.50 Single Admission / $45 Movie Card
28 East Forsyth Street, Suite 300, Jacksonville FL 32202
t. 904.355.5661
box office 904.355.2787

article by stephen dare