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George Cukor
Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart
Writing Credits:
Donald Ogden Stewart

When a rich woman's ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English PCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 11/7/2017

• Audio Commentary With Film Historian Jeanine Basinger
• “In Search of Tracy Lord” Featurette
• “A Katharine Hepburn Production” Featurette
• “Katharine Hepburn on The Dick Cavett Show
• “George Cukor on The Dick Cavett Show
• “Lux Radio Theatre” Broadcast
• Restoration Demonstration
• Trailer
• Booklet


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The Philadelphia Story: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1940)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 25, 2018)

Some films succeed due to crisp writing or sharp directing, while others depend on the talents of the actors. Although The Philadelphia Story certainly features quality work by those behind the camera, it was due to the performers that the movie became a classic.

With a lead cast of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart, how could it fail? In this romantic comedy, Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, a wealthy blue blood about to embark on her second marriage.

The first was to CK Dexter Haven (Grant), a fellow member of the upper class. Due to the cantankerous mix of their personalities, that union went kaput two years prior to the events depicted in the film.

Tracy plans to marry working-class-guy-made-good George Kittredge (John Howard), an up-and-comer who aspires to political success. With two notable names involved, the wedding becomes hot news, and pseudo-tabloid magazine Dime and Spy uses connections with Haven to send two reporters to the event. Macaulay “Mike” Connor (Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) are the chosen two, and they enter the scene as alleged friends of Tracy’s brother.

Tracy quickly gets wind of the scheme, so she attempts to manipulate the press for her own ends in an attempt to make sure that they don’t get the big story that they desire. Along the way, the characters get to know each other, with some fairly predictable twists.

Populist Mike loathes the “idle rich”, a group in which he believes Tracy belongs. She dislikes his biased viewpoint and lack of openness to other ideas. You don’t suppose these two might eventually hit it off, do you?

No, there’s not a lot about the plot that seems particularly fresh, and I doubt that the tale behind The Philadelphia Story appeared new or inventive when it appeared on screens more than 75 years ago. However, this is one of the many instances in which execution carries the day, as the movie’s talent makes it special.

That said, I have no complaints about any of the work done behind the camera, as George Cukor’s direction moves the story at a solid clip, and he keeps the action fresh and compelling. The script shows some signs of wear due to a few tired “class warfare” elements, but as a whole it presents good dialogue and strong characterizations.

However, all of those efforts probably wouldn’t make much difference without the excellent cast, and the actors provide uniformly strong work. From top to bottom, there’s not a dog to be found.

Granted, it’s hard to go wrong with legends like Hepburn, Stewart and Grant, but even the lesser-known performers are excellent. Hussey provides just the right combination of sass and sadness as long-pining Liz, while Howard makes Kittredge dull and square but not excessively so.

Even young Virginia Weidler excels as Tracy’s sister Dinah. I usually loathe movie kids, as far too many come from the “cute ‘n’ cloying” school of acting.

Weidler portrays herself in a fairly age-appropriate manner, but she also shows a great deal of spark and charm. The scene in which she camps it up for the reporters becomes one of the movie’s best.

The Philadelphia Story offers a fun and witty flick that shows few serious flaws. I wasn’t wild about the abrupt ending, which presented a twist that seemed to exist simply for the sake of being unexpected, but otherwise it’s a solid and entertaining piece of work.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

The Philadelphia Story appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The transfer worked very well, especially given the movie’s age.

Sharpness worked well overall. A few interiors could seem a smidgen soft, but the majority of the film appeared well-defined and accurate.

Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no problems. Edge haloes remained absent, and with a layer of fine grain, I suspected no issues with digital noise reduction.

Black levels seemed nicely deep and dark, and contrast was appropriately displayed. The movie showed a good silvery look, and shadow detail was also concise and developed.

Source flaws failed to become an issue. The transfer eliminated those defects and left this as a clean presentation. I felt very happy with this appealing transfer.

As for the film’s PCM monaural soundtrack, it replicated the original material with positive quality. Dialogue seemed fine for its era, and was relatively crisp and well-defined with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility.

The movie featured a fairly spare score, but when we heard music, it was acceptably broad and clear. The material presented little low end but the dynamics were fine for a track of this vintage.

Though effects were similarly dated, they seemed adequately clean and realistic, and no aspects of the mix displayed signs of distortion. Background noise failed to become an issue. All in all, the audio worked fine for its age.

How did this Criterion Blu-ray compare with those of the 2005 DVD? Audio seemed clearer and a little smoother, while visuals appeared tighter, cleaner and richer. While the old DVD fared pretty well, the Blu-ray easily topped it.

The Criterion set mixes old and new extras, and we start with an audio commentary from film historian Jeannine Basinger. From 2004, she presents a running, screen-specific discussion that gets into the film’s roots as a stage production, its success in that format, and changes made for the movie.

Basinger also offers succinct looks at the lives and work of many significant cast and crewmembers along with various production details and particulars of the filmmakers’ styles. Basinger keeps up a good pace as she tosses out useful comments from start to finish. This is a strong track that deepens our understanding of the flick.

A new documentary, In Search of Tracy Lord runs 22 minutes, nine seconds and offers notes from playwright Philip Barry’s granddaughter Miranda, author Donald Anderson, and Edgar and Hope Scott’s granddaughter Janny.

“Search” discusses the life and career of Philip Barry as well as elements related to Philadelphia Story. It becomes a fairly involving program.

During the 18-minute, 53-second A Katharine Hepburn Production, we hear from filmmakers David Heeley and Koan Kramer. They offer an overview of Hepburn’s career and turn this into an efficient program.

Next we find three episodes of The Dick Cavett Show. The first two focus on Hepburn; from October 1973, they last 1:08:53 and 1:08:59, respectively. Shot in May 1978, a third broadcast features George Cukor (15:02).

That’s a whole lotta Kate, and the Hepburn episodes provide a wealth of information. Despite Hepburn’s reticence to do TV interviews, she proves chatty and engaging, so these programs add a lot to this release.

The much shorter Cukor reel seems less valuable, but it still becomes a nice addition. The filmmaker delivers a good collection of memories – enough that I wish the show lasted longer.

After this we find a June 14, 1943 broadcast of Lux Radio Theatre. Hosted by Cecil B. DeMille, it goes for 59 minutes, 26 seconds and features Loretta Young, Robert Taylor and Robert Young as our three leads.

While that’s a talented cast, they don’t really fit the parts. Hepburn, Stewart and Grant captured the roles so well that it becomes difficult to hear others play the characters.

The radio actors also lack the light tone necessary for this project, so the production feels more dramatic than it should. This becomes a fun curiosity but it’s not a great listen.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a Restoration Demonstration. In this six-minute, 25-second, we hear from Criterion technical director Lee Kline and restoration artist Alyson D’Lando. Clips like this can be self-congratulatory, but this one offers some good information.

Finally, the package rounds out with a Booklet. It includes photos, credits and an essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme. The booklet finishes the set well.

Note that the 2005 SE DVD includes a lot of components that don’t reappear here. While we get the DVD’s audio commentary, we lose documentaries about Hepburn and Cukor as well as two other radio adaptations. While the new extras are good, it’s a shame the Blu-ray doesn’t become “one-stop shopping” for all released bonus materials.

Much of The Philadelphia Story still seems fresh and energetic. The movie has some period flaws, but it benefits from excellent acting by a terrific cast. The Blu-ray offers very good picture, era-appropriate audio and a nice roster of supplements. Given the high quality of the movie presentation, this becomes the best version of Story to date.

To rate this film visit the SE review of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY

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