The Philadelphia Story
Cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart
Director: George Cukor
Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay: Donald Ogden Stewart, from the Broadway play by Philip Barry
Theatrical release: 1940; available on DVD
Although more than 70 years old, The Philadelphia Story remains one of the most memorable of Hollywood's classic romantic comedies. The tale, amazingly prescient in anticipating today's celebrity-obsessed paparazzi culture, uses the backdrop of pre-wedding misadventures and a gossip magazine blackmail scheme to illustrate humans at their worst — and, maybe, best.
Jimmy Stewart plays Mike, a reporter, who, with female photographer/partner in tow, grudgingly takes a job with Spy magazine, the tabloid stand-in, to pay the bills and get the inside scoop on the Philadelphia society wedding of one Tracy Lord, played by Katharine Hepburn. Of course, Tracy's ex-husband — C.K. Dexter Haven (the debonair Cary Grant) — stirs the pot, secretly wanting to reclaim his once-beloved-but-intolerant-and-perfectionist wife, the woman he needles with the soubriquet "Red." It's a comedy of manners, an exploration of class, a jab at celebrity 'journalism' and publicity seekers, and a very human story of love and second chances.
A bit of the backstory has it that Broadway playwright Barry wrote the character for Hepburn, basing it on her public persona of the time — she'd been reviewed badly in a different Broadway play and her split from the RKO studio was nasty. After Hepburn starred in The Philadelphia Story on Broadway, Howard Hughes bought it and gave her the film rights. She wanted Clark Gable as Dexter and Spencer Tracy as Mike, but because both men were involved with other projects at the time, Grant and Stewart were cast in those roles. Apparently, the choices were good ones — Stewart won the Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actor, and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart won the Oscar® for adapting Philip Barry's play.
In 1998, The Philadelphia Story was named to the American Film Institute's list of 100 Best American Films.