The Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon: The Philadelphia Story (1940)


Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, honouring the fantastic classic duo from the Hollywood’s brightest times, and my contribution is a short review of one of Hepburn’s most distinguished films:

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

George Cukor’s “The Philadelphia Story” is based on a Broadway play of the same name also starring Katharine Hepburn. In this film, Hepburn plays a rich socialite Tracy Lord, who is about to be married to George Kittredge (John Howard), after her previous marriage to a yacht designer C.K. Dexter Haven, played by Cary Grant, fell apart. Meanwhile, two reporters Mike Connor (James Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) are secretly “planted” in the house of Tracy to spy on her and to try to cover the big wedding. Surely, they are helped in their endeavour by Tracy’s ex-husband Dexter, who still secretly hopes that Tracy will realise that their love was genuine and true. The gist of the comedy here is that Tracy knows about the true purpose of Connor and Imbrie, and her family puts on the show to impress and mislead the reporters. As Tracy flirts with Connor, the realisation of her mistake in the decision to marry Kittredge becomes more apparent. The great thing about this film, apart from its cast and performances, is the way it cleverly combines a witty story, involving a theatre of “appearances deceiving”, and the reflecting character study.

The-Philadelphia-Story-(1940)It goes without saying that the script is ingenious; otherwise, it would not have been first a successful play and then, after the 1940 film, be translated to the screen by John Patrick in the form of “High Society” (1956), a film starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The plot leaves plenty of room for both laughs (in fact, there are many laugh-out-aloud moments) and sad contemplation. However, it is probably the witty dialogue which makes it so good. For example, smiles are guaranteed when the character of James Stewart speaks archaic English to a librarian, or when Dinah Lord (Virginia Weidler), Tracy’s teenage sister, makes her entrance as an amateur ballerina and singer to impress the reporters. The film ends on a very heart-warming, reconciliatory note, even though the ending could be guessed half-way through the film.

The film marks Katharine Hepburn’s return to success after a number of cinematic “failures”, and it is easy to see why Hepburn is again in the midst of popularity after this film. Hepburn could do no wrong in the role which was written specifically with her in mind, and her performance here is outlandishly great. At least publically, Hepburn was known as an independent “rule-breaker”, who had her own standards and views on many things in life. In “The Philadelphia Story”, Hepburn showcases this side of her public persona and uses it to win the hearts of her audience. Hepburn’s Tracy is vivacious and charming, but also sharp-tongued and may appear very cold. As a character, Tracy is the centre of attention, spoiled by her riches, but it is evident that, as the story progresses, her inner fears and vulnerabilities start to show, and she starts to understand that the path to true love (or true love itself) may be imperfect and rocky, but that does not mean that it is any less true or real. Thereby, our heroine learns her lesson. There are many interesting scenes to that effect in the film, and, at one point, Tracy importantly exclaims: “I don’t want to be worshipped, I want to be loved”.

The script, direction and Katharine Hepburn’s brilliance should all go without saying, but what are remarkable here is how perfectly cast other characters are, and how much undeniable chemistry the ensemble as a whole has. James Stewart is perfect in the role of Mike Connor, the reporter, and gives the performance of his career (winning an Academy Award for it, too). In this role, Stewart is his usual self, playing a laid-back (sometimes tipsy) working man, who suddenly discovers something curious and unusual in the set-up created by Tracy and her family, and desires to find out more, similarly to his role in later Hitchcock’s film “Rear Window” (1954). Cary Grant, in the role of Tracy’s ex-husband, is equally good. He probably demanded too much to appear in the picture, but any conditions imposed were worth it, since he makes a nice contrast with both Stewart’s character and also, strangely, with Howard’s character. Surprisingly, Ruth Hussey, in the role of Liz Imbrie, a photographer-reporter, is a real scene-stealer. It is impossible to look anywhere but at her in every scene she is in. She has this quiet beauty about her, and her character appears so distinct, even though it has limited screen-time. It is no wonder, thus, that she was nominated by the Academy for the Best Supporting Actress Award.

Nowadays, “The Philadelphia Story” is regarded as a Hollywood classic, and rightly so. The film is a timeless story which has many important messages and themes, and some of them include the importance of accepting imperfection, because life is such, and not allowing one’s high standards to dim one’s happiness. When laughs and wit are combined with a well-presented plot and strong character presentation, what more would one want from a film like this? The film not only has a very entertaining script, its direction, cast and performances are also so good they leave a very lasting impression. 10/10

27 thoughts on “The Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

    1. I totally understand why you would like High Society more. I adore Grace Kelly, and because of the cast, naturally, it is more of a musical film, so to speak. I like both films, actually, and it is hard to choose. But, if I consider the plot alone, The Philadelphia Story is still far more effective for me.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I would assume it will be the favourite of many, but as I see from other blogathon entries, there are so many other wonderful films and hidden gems I was not even previously aware of, including the film you have written on. I have a lot to watch.


  1. The oscar winning screenplay is probably quotable, but I found the story overstuffed with dialogue, and wondered why they didn’t cut some of it out. I also didn’t care what happens to the characters. Oh well. Maybe I should give the film a second chance some time, as you and many others love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your feedback. You can definitely view the film like this, but I think it is precisely the psychology between the characters/the dialogues which raise the film’s game. I also agree that the film is, sure, not for everyone’s taste.


        1. Let me know then what you think, and if you have seen, how do you think it compares to High Society. The Philadelphia Story is conservative in its general approach (some of its stars are ahead of their time though), but hey, it is 1940.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for reviewing this wonderful movie so well. It’s my favourite from the classic era, with 3 or 4 great stars firing on all cylinders. It’s so much better than High Society for me. And this quickfire dialogue is all wonderful too. 10/10 from me too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much for joining in on the blogathon and for bringing an exceptional article. I’m thankful for “The Philadelphia Story” for rescuing Kate from “Box Office Poison”. It’s one of my favorite films of hers, and I’m so glad it was included in the blogathon. I would also like to apologize for the late comment. I’ve been sick, and spent some time in hospital. I’m better now though.

    Also, I’ve announced another blogathon, and you are cordially invited to participate. Here is the link below with more details.


  4. This is a fine article! I, Rebekah Brannan, have not participated much in the blog world in the past, but I intend to become more involved now. I have read some of your other articles, and they are all informative and enjoyable.

    I would like very much for you to participate in my upcoming blogathon, The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon, which will be my first real participation in PEPS. This blogathon, which will be hosted around Valentine’s Day, is celebrating the famous singing team Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

    You can read the rules of the blogathon at If you want to join, please comment and tell me your topic, if you have chosen one. I hope you’ll join me in honoring this brilliant team and the holiday of love!


    Rebekah Brannan


    1. Hello there, thank you for your kind words. Your blogathon sounds very interesting, but the thing is that I have already signed up for a number of blogathons February-March, so I am not sure now how I will fulfil all my promises to contribute, but I will see what I can do re your blogathon, and thanks very much for inviting me. I sure appreciate that a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your replying. We would love to have you in the blogathon, but if you’re too busy, I understand. I know that it’s not good to overload your schedule, and you’re wise not to do so.

        If you will be able to participate, please let me know, but if not, I hope you can join us next time!

        Many thanks!


        Rebekah Brannan


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