Film: The Philadelphia Story

Eeeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe

"I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. You know one time I think I secretly wanted to be a writer."
C.K. Dexter Haaaaaaaaaaven

Witty, classic Hollywood Screwball Comedy made in 1940 and starring three of the biggest stars of the era: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart.

Upper class Tracy Lord (Hepburn) is getting married to an independently wealthy man, but her ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven (Grant), looking for a little revenge, sneaks in a couple of reporters - a writer (Stewart) and photographer - to do an exclusive story for Spy Magazine. Love Triangle confusion ensues among the stars and supporting characters.

Nominated for Best Picture but lost to Rebecca. Stewart, however, won the only Best Actor award of his career for his portrayal of Macaulay "Mike" Connor.

Later remade in 1956 as High Society, starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra in the Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart roles. Not to be confused with the 1993 Tom Hanks movie Philadelphia, or the 1984 science fiction film The Philadelphia Experiment.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Uncle Willy towards Liz.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Margaret Lord refers to Mike as "Mr. O'Connor" at one point.
  • An Aesop: Everyone has moral failings.
    Dexter: "We're all only human, you know."
  • Affectionate Nickname: Dexter generally addresses Tracy as "Red".
  • All Women Are Prudes: Tracy's attitude towards sex isn't just conservative; there's actually some evidence that she herself doesn't much care for it. The issue is never really addressed, despite the problems it apparently caused in her first marriage and could cause in her second. Although her attitude seems quite opposite this trope when she's drunk.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Tracy is offended that Mike didn't take advantage of her while she was passed out drunk.
  • Alcohol Hic: Jimmy Stewart's improvised Alcohol Hic almost got Cary Grant corpsing. Which was what Stewart was trying to do, naturally. Lampshaded by Mike's line "I have the hiccups".
  • The Alcoholic: Dexter — much as Seth's philandering is apparently Tracy's fault, Dexter's drinking problem was apparently also Tracy's fault, for not helping him enough with it.
  • Artist Disillusionment: In-universe. Mike is bitter because he poured his heart and soul into a book of short stories that netted him $600.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: C.K. Dexter Haven. Made even more awesome by the fact that we don't know what the C.K. stands for.
    • Well, "Macaulay Connor is no homespun tag". His father taught English history, indeed. But he's Mike to his friends.
  • Beat Them at Their Own Game: Dexter doesn't take kindly to being blackmailed by Sidney Kidd.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Dexter watches Tracy sleep in the car and wipers "You look beautiful, Red."
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Tracy with Mike, and even more so with Dexter.
  • Big Fancy House: Mike can't stop snarking about the opulence of the Lord mansion.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: George is revealed to be not as nice as he seems.
  • Blackmail: Sidney Kidd will publish a scandalous article on Tracy's father if she doesn't let Mike and Liz do their story.
    • Dexter and Mike later conspire to counter-blackmail Kidd.
      Tracy: "I want them out and you too."
      Dexter: "Yes, yes, your Majesty, but first, could I interest you in some small blackmail?"
  • Break the Haughty: Tracy — the overriding theme of the movie is that Tracy won't be happy until she stops being so high-and-mighty.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Subverted. Tracy thinks she's justifiably angry with her father for fooling around with a younger woman. Seth tells Tracy that his affairs are none of her business, then turns the tables and blames her for driving him away.
  • Can't Hold Her Liquor: Tracy really should not drink champagne.
  • Comedy of Remarriage: Dealing with Tracy and Dexter.
  • Composite Character: Dexter combines elements of two characters from the original play: himself, and Tracy's brother Sandy.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: Tracy breaks Liz's camera (she's been told that Liz is a magazine photographer).
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dexter. Liz gets some good ones in too.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Tracy's gradual defrosting is the main plot. George rather wants her to stay frosty.
    George: "Well, you're like some marvelous, distant ... well, queen, I guess."
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Mike and Tracy. Next morning we learn from Mike, that nothing has happened.
  • Dirty Old Man: Uncle Willy, constantly pinching women on the bottom and hitting on Liz.
  • Disposable FiancÚ: George.
  • Domestic Abuse: The papers insinuate that this was one of the causes of Tracy and Dexter's breakup. Only Dinah seems to give the rumors any credence.
    Dinah: "Well the papers were full of inundo."
    Margaret: "Of what?"
    Dinah: "Of inundo. Cruelty and drunkenness it said."
    • Dexter is plainly shown knocking Tracy down in the opening scene. It's played for laughs, as are the other abuse references.
  • Drinking On Duty : Mike is supposed to be writing an article about the wedding. He gets drunk with the bride.
  • Drunken Song: "Oh, C.K. Dexter Haaaaaaaaaven!"
    • And "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
  • Evil Brit: Sidney Kidd (We don't know if the character's meant to be British, but he definitely has the accent.)
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The bulk of the action takes place over a 24-hour period, except for some establishing scenes from the day before and a prologue set two years earlier.
  • Facepalm of Doom: A particularly pissed off C. K. Dexter does this to Tracy after she breaks one of his golf clubs in front of him. She falls to the ground but she's not hurt.
  • Fish out of Water: Mike and Liz, commoners hanging out with the ultra-rich. George too, to a lesser extent.
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: The librarian using "thee" and "thou".
  • Follow That Car: Mike drunkenly tells a joke of the taxicab variety.
  • Foreshadowing: Dexter reminds Tracy that she, once, "got drunk on champagne and climbed out on the roof, and stood there, naked, with [her] arms out to the moon, wailing like a banshee". It seems champagne is bad for her. Then, we see her get drunk on champagne, with Mike.
  • Freudian Trio: Tracy's three suitors, George, Mike, and Dexter. Seen from that perspective, the film's ending should hardly come as a surprise.
  • Full-Name Basis: In one drunken scene, Mike addresses Dexter exclusively by his full name. Probably because he really likes saying it.
  • Girl Friday: Liz to Mike.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: It's from The Hays Code era.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: George, who automatically assumes the worst when he sees Tracy in another man's arms.
    • Hilariously averted with Dexter, who apparently couldn't care less.
    • Liz would "scratch [the] eyes out" of any girl who came between her and Mike, but she manages to be philosophical about his fling with Tracy. It can't hurt that when Tracy turns down Mike's proposal, she gives Liz's feelings for him as one of her reasons.
    • Tracy's parents also point out that her outrage over Seth's philandering sounds a lot like jealousy. Which is odd, considering she's Seth's daughter.
  • Hair of the Dog: Mike would "sell his grandmother" for an alcoholic beverage the morning after the party.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: Several characters.
  • Hot And Cold: Tracy veers between affection and anger.
  • Humble Pie: Tracy is intolerant of others' moral failings, particularly her ex-husband's alcoholism and her father's perceived infidelity. Then, on the eve of her wedding, she gets drunk on champagne and makes out with another man. The next morning, her attitude is penitent.
  • Informed Flaw: Quite a few, including Tracy's intolerance, Mike's cynicism, and Dexter's drunkenness. Mostly justified, considering the bulk of the plot takes place during one day, and to be fair to Dexter, by the time the story starts he's firmly on the wagon.
  • In Vino Veritas: Tracy's realizations about herself and the men in her life come as a result of getting drunk. Alcohol also allows the softer side of Mike's personality to come out.
    • Subverted to the extent that Tracy and Mike's drunken kiss is not taken as evidence of their true feelings for each other.
  • Ironic Echo: "The truth is you'll never be a first class human being until you've learned to have some regard for human frailty."
  • Jacob and Esau: It's subtle, but Dinah seems more like her mother, while Tracy clearly takes after her father.
  • Jerkass Fašade:
    • Mike, a sensitive poet who puts up a Jerk Ass front to "save his skin"
    • Also Dexter, who acts like a jerk to Tracy throughout most of the film, only to reveal that he really does love her and want what's best for her.
  • Kissing Under the Influence: (of champagne) Mike and Tracy
  • Love Confessor: Sort of happens between Liz and Sandy in the play. In the movie, the scene is re-written to have Dexter assume that Liz is in love with Mike without asking explicitly.
  • Love Epiphany: Subverted
    Mike: "It - it can't be anything like love, can it?"
    Tracy: "No, it mustn't be! It can't be!"
    Mike: "Would it be inconvenient?"
    Tracy: "Terribly!"
  • Love Triangle: or Love Pentagram, with Tracy and her three suitors, as well as Liz's affection for Mike.
  • Maybe Ever After: The status of Mike and Liz's relationship at the end of the movie is ambiguous.
  • Meaningful Echo: "My, she was yare!"
    • "With the rich and mighty, always a little patience."
  • Mouthy Kid: Dinah.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Playwright Philip Barry based the character of Tracy on Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, a Main Line Philadelphia socialite famous for throwing lavish parties at her family's 800 acre farm estate in Radnor.
  • Not What It Looks Like: A drunken, affectionate Mike cradling a sleepy, amorous Tracy in his arms is kind of bad, but not as bad as George assumes it is.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Dinah's lament early on in the film.
  • Phrase Catcher: Tracy gets the word "goddess" attached to her a lot, thanks mostly to Dexter. Other characters show a fondness for "queen".
    Mike: "When a girl is like Tracy, she's one in a million! She's sort of like a...She's sort of like a..."
    Dexter: "A goddess?"
    Mike: "No, no, no, you said that word this afternoon, no. No, she's sort of like a queen. A radiant, glorious queen. And you can't treat her like other women."
  • Nice Mean And Inbetween: played with in regard of the three suitors. At first George is nice, Dexter is mean and Mike is inbetween. By the end, George is revealed in his true Bitch in Sheep's Clothing colors, becoming the main mean guy. Mike is the decent nice guy, and Dexter falls inbetween.
  • Prophetic Name: Parson Parsons.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Dexter gives Tracy one mid-way through the film. This is followed shortly by one from her father.
  • Revenge: Mike (incorrectly) assumes this is Dexter's reason for co-operating with Sidney Kidd.
    Mike: "So you want to get even with your ex-bride, huh?"
  • Rich Bitch: Tracy, though she's somewhat toned-down and does improve over time.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: A mild example, but it's hinted that the Lords aren't too smart about certain things. It's made somewhat clearer in the original play.
    Tracy: "Mother, how do you spell 'omelet'???"
    Margaret Lord: "O-M-M-E-L-E-T."
    Tracy: (Erasing what she has written.) "Thought there was another 'L'."
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Tracy actually has two rich suitors (Dexter and George) and one poor one (Mike). The film subverts our expectations somewhat by having Tracy marry one of the rich ones. After all, if money doesn't matter...
    Mike: "Well, I made a funny discovery. That in spite of the fact that somebody's up from the bottom, he can still be quite a heel. And even though somebody else is born to the purple, he can still be a very nice guy."
  • Romantic Comedy: Sometimes referred to as a Screwball Comedy, though it's more a successor to the genre.
  • Romantic False Lead: Such is the star power of Jimmy Stewart that he is a credible romantic rival to Cary Grant. The guy that plays Kittredge, on the other hand, is an obvious Romantic False Lead.
  • Running Gag:
    • During the luncheon scene: "Another place, Edward."
    • Margaret Lord never can seem to remember who Mike is, first forgetting his name, then mistakenly calling him "Mr. O'Connor", and finally confusing him with one of the musicians.
  • Running Gag Stumbles: At the end of the movie, Margaret seems to have forgotten who Mike is again, because she turns to him and cries, "Dr. Parsons!" Mike starts to correct her, then realizes that Dr. Parsons is actually the pastor, and he is standing right behind Mike.
  • Self-Made Man: George, who made his money in coal mining.
  • Shipper on Deck: Dinah much prefers Dexter to George as a brother-in-law, and she's not shy about mentioning it.
    • Late in the movie, she tries to get Tracy to marry Mike, not because she likes him, but because she believes she has to.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Subverted.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Tracy and Mike.
  • Smug Snake: Seth Lord, though through Values Dissonance the script is clearly on his side.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Holiday (1938). Both films share the same stars (Hepburn and Grant), director (George Cukor), and screenwriter (Donald Ogden Stewart), and both were adaptations of stage plays by Philip Barry.
  • A Taste of Their Own Medicine: Tracy gives Mike and Liz one when pretends not to know they are reporters, and asks them a lot of very personal questions.
    Mike: Look, who's doing the interviewing here???
  • The Teetotaler: Implied about Dexter.
  • Title Drop: It's Sidney Kidd's title for the story he wants Mike and Liz to write.
  • Wedding Day: The story ends on the day of Tracy's wedding.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: What Tracy wants (or doesn't want) to know in the lead-up to her wedding.
  • White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: The Lords.
  • Why Waste a Wedding?: Though she doesn't marry George, Tracy does get (re)married on her wedding day.
  • Women Are Wiser: Subverted. Tracy sees herself as morally superior to her ex-husband and her father because she doesn't drink or philander. However, they point out that her very self-righteousness is a moral failing that's just as dangerous. Oh, and then she gets drunk and makes out with another guy.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Dexter, at least once. After Tracy snaps one of his golf clubs in half, he raises his arm to punch her, appears to think better of it, then ends up pushing her down onto the ground. A bit more family-friendly, but still kind of mean.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The Quaker librarian that Mike talks to asks "What does thee wish?" The grammatically correct form would be "What dost thou wish?", but Quakers tend to use "thee" as both a subject and object pronoun, so it makes sense in context.
  • You Didn't Ask: Liz's reason for not telling Mike about her previous marriage.
    Mike: Well, you're the darndest girl.
    Liz (primly): I think I'm sweet.