The Philadelphia Story (film)

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The Philadelphia Story
Theatrical poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Screenplay byDonald Ogden Stewart
Based onThe Philadelphia Story
1939 play
by Philip Barry
Produced byJoseph L. Mankiewicz
StarringCary Grant
Katharine Hepburn
James Stewart
Ruth Hussey
CinematographyJoseph Ruttenberg
Edited byFrank Sullivan
Music byFranz Waxman
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.
Release dates
  • December 5, 1940 (1940-12-05) (premiere)
  • December 26, 1940 (1940-12-26) (New York City)
  • January 17, 1941 (1941-01-17) (US)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$914,000 [1]
Box office$3.3 million[1]

The Philadelphia Story is a 1940 American romantic comedy film[2][3] directed by George Cukor, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey. Based on the 1939 Broadway play of the same name by Philip Barry,[4] the film is about a socialite whose wedding plans are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband and a tabloid magazine journalist. The socialite character of the play—performed by Hepburn in the film—was inspired by Helen Hope Montgomery Scott (1904–1995), a Philadelphia socialite known for her hijinks, who married a friend of playwright Barry.[5]

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 device at a time when divorce was scandalous and the depiction of extramarital affairs was blocked by the Production Code.[6][7]

The film was Hepburn's first big hit following several flops, which had placed her on a 1938 list of actors considered to be "box office poison" compiled by Manhattan movie theater owner Harry Brandt.[8] Hepburn acquired the film rights to the play, which she had also starred in, with the help of Howard Hughes[9] in order to control it as a vehicle for her screen comeback.[10] According to a Turner Broadcasting documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars, after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer purchased the film rights, they were skeptical about Hepburn's box office appeal, so MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer took an unusual precaution by engaging two A-list male stars (Grant and Stewart) to support Hepburn.

Nominated for six Academy Awards, the film won two: James Stewart for Best Actor, and Donald Ogden Stewart for Best Adapted Screenplay. MGM remade the film in 1956 as a musical, retitled High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra.[11]

The Philadelphia Story was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1995.[12]


Mike carries Tracy into the house from a midnight dip.

Tracy Lord is the elder daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia Main Line socialite family. She was married to C.K. Dexter Haven, a yacht designer and member of her social set, but divorced him two years prior, because, according to her father, he does not measure up to the standards she sets for all her friends and family: He drank too much for her taste, and, according to him, as she became critical of him, he drank more. Their only interaction while married, the film's opening scene, is her breaking his golf clubs and him pushing her to the ground. Now, she is about to marry nouveau riche "man of the people" George Kittredge.

Tracy is short a groom, with a roomful of wedding guests waiting.

In New York, Spy magazine publisher Sidney Kidd is eager to cover the wedding, and assigns reporter Macaulay "Mike" Connor and photographer Liz Imbrie. Kidd intends to use the assistance of Dexter, who has been working for Spy in South America. Dexter tells Kidd that he will introduce them as friends of Tracy's brother Junius (a U.S. diplomat in Argentina). Tracy is not fooled, but Dexter tells her that Kidd has threatened the reputation of her family with an innuendo-laden article about her father's affair with a dancer. Tracy deeply resents her father's infidelity, which has prompted her parents to live separately. Nonetheless, to protect her family's reputation, she agrees to let Mike and Liz stay and cover her wedding.

Dexter is welcomed back with open arms by Tracy's mother Margaret and teenage sister Dinah, much to Tracy's frustration. She soon discovers that Mike has admirable qualities, and even seeks out his book of short stories in the public library. As the wedding nears, she finds herself torn between her fiancé George, Dexter, and Mike.

The night before the wedding, Tracy gets drunk for only the second time in her life, kisses Mike, and ultimately takes an innocent midnight swim with him. When George observes Mike carrying an intoxicated Tracy into the house afterward, he assumes the worst. The next day, he tells her that he was shocked and feels entitled to an explanation before going ahead with the wedding. Yet, she admits she really has none, and realizes that he does not really know her at all. He has loved her as a perfect, ideal angel, an embodiment of goodness—a virginal statue—and not as a person, so she breaks off the engagement. By now she better understands her own imperfections and her criticism of others. Tracy realizes that all the guests have arrived and are waiting for the ceremony to begin. Mike quickly volunteers to marry her, but she graciously declines because she perceives that Liz is in love with him. Then, Dexter, who clearly planned to win her back all along, offers to remarry her, and she gladly accepts.



"Everyone had enormous fun on the movie. The days and nights were sweltering that summer of 1940, but nobody cared. Cary got along very well with Kate Hepburn. She enjoyed him pushing her through a doorway in one scene (so she fell over backward) so much that she had him do it to her over and over again. There was a scene in which she had to throw Cary out the door of a house, bag and baggage, and she did it so vigorously he fell over and was bruised. As he stood up, looking rueful, Kate said, "That'll serve you right, Cary, for trying to be your own stuntman."

—Cameraman Joseph Ruttenberg, recalling The Philadelphia Story (1940).[13]

Broadway playwright Barry[14] wrote the play specifically for Hepburn, who ended up backing the play, and forgoing a salary in return for a percentage of its profits.[15] Her co-stars were Joseph Cotten as Dexter Haven, Van Heflin as Mike Connor, and Shirley Booth as Liz Imbrie.[4]

The original play, starring Hepburn, ran for 417 performances.[4] It made over $1 million in box office sales and later went on to tour, performing another 250 times and making over $750,000 in sales.[citation needed] The play also originally featured another character named Sandy. However that role was eliminated for the movie to make more room for the character development of Mike.[citation needed]

At this time, Hepburn hoped to create a film vehicle for herself which would erase the label of "box office poison" that she had acquired after a number of commercial failures (including the classic Bringing Up Baby). So, she happily accepted the film rights to the play from Howard Hughes, who had bought them for her. She then convinced MGM's Mayer to buy them from her for only $250,000, in return for Hepburn having veto over producer, director, screenwriter, and cast.[10][15]

Hepburn as Tracy Lord and Stewart as Mike Connor

Hepburn selected director George Cukor, in whose films A Bill of Divorcement (1932) and Little Women (1933) she had acted, and Donald Ogden Stewart, a friend of Barry's and a specialist at adapting plays to the big screen, as writer.[15]

Hepburn wanted Clark Gable to play Dexter Haven and Spencer Tracy to play Mike Connor, but both had other commitments.[11] 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.[16] The pairing of Cukor and 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, who was a friend of Gable's.[17]

The film was in production from July 5 to August 14, 1940[18] at MGM's studios in Culver City.[19] It was shot in six weeks and came in five days under schedule.[10] At one point, Stewart slipped in his hiccupping during the drunk scene. Grant turned to him, surprised, and said, "Excuse me", then appears to have stifled a laugh. The scene was kept, and was not reshot.[20]

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.[citation needed]

Hepburn performed the dive into the swimming pool by herself, without the help of doubles.[citation needed]

The film premiered in New York City on December 26, 1940, and it was shown in select theaters in December, but MGM had agreed to hold its general release until January 1941 in order to not compete with the stage play,[10] which was no longer playing on Broadway, but was touring the country.[4] It went into general American release on January 17, 1941.[21] It broke a box office record at Radio City Music Hall by taking in $600,000 in just six weeks.[citation needed]

The model sailboat that Grant gives Hepburn is based on an actual boat, the True Love (originally the Venona II, based on the Malabar design by John Alden built for racing), which, as of 2021, sails on Seneca Lake out of Watkins Glen, New York, as an excursion boat for Schooner Excursions, Inc.[22]


Box office[edit]

Trailer (public domain)

According to MGM records, the film earned $2,374,000 in the US and Canada, and $885,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $1,272,000.[1]


Writing for The New York Times in 1940, Bosley Crowther wrote that the film "has just about everything that a blue-chip comedy should have—a witty, romantic script derived by Donald Ogden Stewart out of Philip Barry's successful play; the flavor of high-society elegance, in which the patrons invariably luxuriate; and a splendid cast of performers headed by Hepburn, Stewart, and Grant. If it doesn't play out this year and well along into next, they should turn the Music Hall into a shooting gallery ... Metro and Director George Cukor have graciously made it apparent, in the words of a character, that one of 'the prettiest sights in this pretty world is the privileged classes enjoying their privileges'. And so, in this instance, will you, too."[23] Seventy-five years later, Peter Bradshaw wrote "However stagily preposterous, George Cukor's 1940 movie The Philadelphia Story, now rereleased, is also utterly beguiling, funny and romantic. ... The fun and wit rise like champagne bubbles, but there is a deceptive strength in the writing and performances." Bradshaw also notes that the film is the "most famous example of the intriguing and now defunct prewar genre of 'comedy of remarriage'".[7] Life Magazine deemed it their film of the week in January, 1941, describing it as "among the best funny pictures" of the year.[24]

The film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 101 reviews, with an average rating of 9/10. The consensus reads: "Offering a wonderfully witty script, spotless direction from George Cukor, and typically excellent lead performances, The Philadelphia Story is an unqualified classic."[25] The site also ranked it as the Best Romantic Comedy of all time.[26]

The film was the last of four starring Grant and Hepburn, following Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and Holiday (1938).

Awards and honors[edit]

Hussey as Liz Imbrie
Grant as C.K. Dexter Haven, and John Howard as George Kittredge

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two (Best Actor and Best Screenplay). At the 1940 ceremony, James Stewart did not expect to win and was not planning to attend the ceremony, but he was called and "advised" to show up in a dinner jacket. He said he had voted for Henry Fonda for his performance in The Grapes of Wrath, and always felt the award had been given to him as compensation for not winning for his portrayal of Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington the previous year. Donald Ogden Stewart, on the other hand, declared upon winning his Oscar: "I have no one to thank but myself!"[15]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[27] Best Picture Joseph L. Mankiewicz (for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) Nominated
Best Director George Cukor Nominated
Best Actor James Stewart Won
Best Actress Katharine Hepburn Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Ruth Hussey Nominated
Best Screenplay Donald Ogden Stewart Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[28] Best Film Nominated
Best Actress Katharine Hepburn Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards[29] Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won

The film was named the third best of the year by Film Daily.[30]

In 1995, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.[12]

The film was included in various American Film Institute lists:


Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart perform "The Philadelphia Story" for the Victory Theater radio program in 1942

The stars of the film appeared in a one-hour radio adaptation on the premiere episode of the War Office's special Victory Theater summer series,[36][37][38] airing July 20, 1942.[39] This episode was specially produced by Lux Radio Theatre volunteer personnel as their donation to the Victory Theater series, and it aired under government, not Lux, sponsorship. Lux Radio Theatre produced a second adaptation for its own use on June 14, 1943, with Robert Taylor, Loretta Young, and Robert Young.[10][40] The film was also adapted for two half-hour episodes of The Screen Guild Theater, first with Greer Garson, Henry Fonda, and Fred MacMurray (April 5, 1942),[41] then with Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart reprising their film roles (March 17, 1947).[42]

The film was adapted in 1956 as the MGM musical High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm, and Louis Armstrong, directed by Charles Walters.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger. Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ Variety film review; November 27, 1940, page 16.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; December 7, 1940.
  4. ^ a b c d "The Philadelphia Story (1939 play)". Internet Broadway Database.
  5. ^ Irvine, Ian "The Real Philadelphia Story" at
  6. ^ "Waldo Salt". Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  7. ^ a b Bradshaw, Peter (February 12, 2015). "The Philadelphia Story review – fun and wit rise like champagne bubbles". The Guardian.
  8. ^ "The New Pictures". Time. January 20, 1941. Archived from the original on December 23, 2009. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  9. ^ Hyde, Douglas (February 23, 2005). "The Hughes-Hepburn affair; Hepburn biographer describes 'tender' relationship".
  10. ^ a b c d e TCM Notes
  11. ^ a b c Hay, Peter (1991). MGM: When the Lion Roars. Turner Publishing. pp. 206–207, 310. ISBN 978-1878685049.
  12. ^ a b "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  13. ^ Higham & Moseley 1990, p. 129.
  14. ^ "Philip Barry". Internet Broadway Database.
  15. ^ a b c d Melear, Mary Anne. "The Philadelphia Story". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  16. ^ Eric Page, ‘Cary Grant, Movies’ Epitome of Elegance, Dies of A Stroke’ The New York Times, December 1, 1986. Retrieved August 4, 2019.
  17. ^ Smith, Dinitia (March 22, 2005). "The Antic Birth Pangs of 'Gone With the Wind'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on April 26, 2023. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  18. ^ IMDB Business data
  19. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  20. ^ Osborne, Robert, Turner Classic Movies broadcast
  21. ^ TCM Overview
  22. ^ "Sailing Charters in the Finger Lakes". Sail True Love. Archived from the original on April 26, 2023. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  23. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 27, 1940). "A Splendid Cast Adorns the Screen Version of 'The Philadelphia Story' at the Music Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  24. ^ "Movie of the week: The Philadelphia Story". LIFE. January 6, 1941. p. 31. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  25. ^ "The Philadelphia Story". December 1, 1940. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  26. ^ "Best Romantic Comedies". Rotten Tomatoes.
  27. ^ "The 13th Academy Awards (1941) Nominees and Winners". (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved August 12, 2011.
  28. ^ "New York Film Critics Circle Awards: 1940 Awards". New York Film Critics Circle.
  29. ^ "Film Hall of Fame Inductees: Productions". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved August 15, 2021.
  30. ^ Aitchison, Marion (January 14, 1942). "Time Reviewers Again Pick Eight Out of Ten Winners". St. Petersburg Times.
  31. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  32. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  33. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  34. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  35. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10: Top 10 Romantic Comedy". American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  36. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 43 (3): 34. Summer 2017.
  37. ^ "The Definitive Victory Theater Radio Article and Log with The Office of War Information". The Digital Deli Too. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  38. ^ Reinhart, Charles F. (July 20, 2016). "Victory Theatre – The Philadelphia Story". Jimmy Stewart on the Air. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  39. ^ "Victory Theater Premiere Stars Hepburn, Stewart, Grant Tonight". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 20, 1942. p. 4 (Daily Magazine). Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  40. ^ "Monday Selections". Toledo Blade (Ohio). June 14, 1943. p. 4 (Peach Section). Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  41. ^ Vincent Johnson (April 4, 1942). "Radio Marks First Observance of Easter with America at War". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 4 (Daily Magazine). Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  42. ^ "Monday Selections". Toledo Blade (Ohio). March 17, 1947. p. 4 (Peach Section). Retrieved July 18, 2021.


External links[edit]

Streaming audio[edit]