Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Philadelphia Story


One of the best romantic comedies of all time, and to my surprise, I had never seen it. I guess I was under the impression that I had because I had seen the famous wordless opening scene dozens of times in one documentary or another. (Katherine Hepburn breaks Cary Grant’s golf club and he starts to hit her, then changes his mind and puts his hand on her face and shoves her backward, hard! I assume she landed on a mattress just out of frame. A brilliant bit of staging.) After that the laughs come fast and furious, one witty line of dialogue after another. The film still looks great, as all those old MGM productions from the glory days do. Nobody could put the gloss on like MGM, and director George Cukor. The lighting is always impeccable, Kate Hepburn is radiantly beautiful. She’s probably my favorite actress from the golden age. Cary Grant is more subdued than usual. Jimmy Stewart shines, but I’d have to say that he shouldn’t have won his Oscar for this, in a year when Henry Fonda was on the ballot for The Grapes of Wrath, and Charlie Chaplin for The Great Dictator. Stewart knew that this was a consolation Oscar, really a reward for losing the previous year for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which Robert Donat won for Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I see in the credits that Waldo Salt worked on the script, uncredited. He would be doing a lot of uncredited work in years to come, as he was a blacklisted writer. I met him in about 1980, when he was approached to write the screenplay for Millennium. He turned us down.

Interesting trivia:

The play was a big hit on Broadway for Hepburn. She originally wanted Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy to star with her, but they were both busy. And Gable would not have worked with Cukor, anyway. He’d had him fired from Gone With the Wind because he “detested his obvious homosexuality.”

In the scene where Jimmy Stewart is drunk he improvised the hiccups. Cary Grant was desperately trying not to laugh and ruin the shot.

Cary Grant donated his huge $100,000 salary to the British War Relief Fund.

The word “Philadelphia” on the Oscar that James Stewart received in 1941 is misspelled. (I have to wonder just how it was misspelled. Philladelphia? Philidelphia? Filadelfia?) The Oscar was kept in the window of his father’s hardware store located on Philadelphia Street in Indiana, Pennsylvania.