Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young, John Halliday, Mary Nash, Virginia Weidler, Henry Daniell, Lionel Pape, Rex Evans
Written by: Donald Ogden Stewart, based on a play by Philip Barry
Directed by: George Cukor
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 112
Date: 12/23/1940

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

She Was Yar

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

George Cukor's The Philadelphia Story is one of the most high-profile and polished romantic comedies ever made; it's sometimes called a "screwball comedy," but it's too sophisticated for that. Cukor handles Donald Ogden Stewart's complicated story so smoothly that it never once creates any trouble for the viewer. Socialite Tracy (Katharine Hepburn) has divorced the smooth C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) and is preparing to marry again.

An editor for "Spy" magazine sends reporter Mike (James Stewart) and photographer Liz (Ruth Hussey) to cover the wedding, and uses Dexter to get them in Tracy's good graces. Mike falls for Tracy, and several misunderstandings follow. Virginia Weidler co-stars as Tracy's teen sister, who adores Dexter.

It goes without saying that the acting here is of an incredibly high calibre, since all three leads were -- and still are -- among the heavyweights of screen thespians. Stewart has a very funny drunk scene that nearly manages to unsettle Grant; they both almost crack up.

Stewart won the Oscar for Best Actor for this film. He, of course, deserved at least one Oscar in his career, but this one is troubling for many reasons. He had been nominated the year before for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and lost, and many see this one as a makeup for that. Moreover, Grant was not nominated at all. And, to go one further, it could be argued that Stewart is much better in Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner, released the same year.

Meanwhile, Hepburn received a nomination, as did Hussey for Best Supporting Actress. The movie also received nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, but its only other win was for Best Screenplay. Waldo Salt reportedly worked on the screenplay, without credit.

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