THE PHILADELPHIA STORY
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Cary Grant, Katherine
Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard
Director: George Cukor
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.37:1
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: November 7, 2017
“Either I’m gonna sock you or you’re gonna sock me.”
“Shall we toss a coin?”
It’s hard to believe that there was actually a time when Katherine Hepburn’s acting career was in danger of nearly ending. At one point in the late 1930s, a young Ms. Hepburn was even labeled as box office poison by critics, following the back to back disappointments of Bringing Up Baby and Holiday, both released in 1938. All it took was an adaptation of a stage play called The Philadelphia Story to secure her a remarkable acting legacy.
Hepburn was able to financially back the project, as well as secure the film rights from her then-husband, Howard Hughes. She was also able to choose which director would helm the project, which was her frequent collaborator George Cukor. The project also garnered major acting heavyweights in the form of Cary Grant and James Stewart, the latter of which would win his only Academy Award to date for this film.
The story, adapted from the play by Philip Barry, tells of Tracy Lord (Hepburn), an all too self absorbed socialite who is set to be married in a matter of days. Complicating matters is an unexpected visit by her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant). And complicating matters even further is Mike Connor (Stewart), an accompanying reporter assigned to cover the wedding, who ends up being more drawn to Tracy than he ever expected.
Though Hepburn is the prime showcase here, and she has never been more stunning than she is here, never to be outshadowed is the always classic Cary Grant who in this, along with His Girl Friday (released the same year), illustrates why he is the silver screen’s greatest leading man with his unending charismatic charm and delivery of one snappy one liner after the next. And as mentioned earlier, James Stewart won an Oscar for his performance here...and that really tells you all you need to know about how great he is in the role.
Screwball comedies were all the rage during this time period (Cary Grant himself was the king of those), but The Philadelphia Story is definitely more of a sophisticated type. It has its share of physical pratfalls, but the dialogue and relationships between the characters take center stage here, showcasing the strengths of a terrific stage play. With a fiery script and three acting legends on top of their game, you simply can’t ask for a better piece of witty entertainment.
The folks at Criterion simply continue to perform true magic when it comes to restoration. For this Blu-ray release, they have presented this 1940 film with a stunning 4k digital restoration. What makes this an even more special occasion is the fact that the original nitrate film negative was destroyed in a 1978 fire, so the work to restore the picture to pristine form was heavily painstaking (which is covered in one of the disc’s features). From this comes a beautifully glorious Black and White picture, with stunning image detail and fantastic contrast levels on displays. This is a presentation that fans of this film are going to be floored by!
The PCM mono mix serves this classic dialogue driven comedy perfectly well, giving a perfect centered mix delivery for all the rapid fire dialogue, which is heard in utter terrifically clear and crisp form. Occasional music cues, courtesy of Franz Waxman, are delivered nicely, in addition!
Criterion delivers yet another fantastic line up of features for this release, starting with a commentary from 2005 with film scholar Jeanine Basinger, as well as “In Search of Tracy Lord”, a new documentary about the origin of the character. There’s also a new piece focusing on Katharine Hepburn’s role in the development of the film, two full episodes, and most terrific ones at that, of The Dick Cavett Show from 1973 featuring rare interviews with Hepburn, plus an excerpt of a 1978 interview with Cavett and director George Cukor, as well as a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film from 1943, featuring an introduction by filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, and a most fascinating restoration demonstration, showing how the picture was fully restored from a damaged print. Lastly, we get a trailer and an insert booklet featuring an essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme.
When a movie is 75 years old and can still hold up this good, you know it’s got to be some piece of work. Such is the case with The Philadelphia Story, which is classic screwball comedy in its highest form. If you’ve never had a chance to see it, there’s never a more perfect time than now thanks to the beautiful work provided to this Blu-ray from Criterion!