The Philadelphia Story appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the movie didn’t present a stellar transfer, it seemed above average for something of its era.
Sharpness usually appeared acceptably clear and well-defined. A few shots looked mildly soft and fuzzy, but they created rare distractions. Instead, the majority of the flick was rendered with good delineation. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no substantial problems, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement appeared.
Black levels seemed nicely deep and dark, and contrast was appropriately displayed. The movie usually showed a good silvery look, and shadow detail was also reasonably concise and developed. For the most part, source flaws were minor. Grain seemed heavier than I expected, but other defects popped up infrequently. I saw occasional examples of thin vertical lines and specks. Otherwise, the movie demonstrated few significant concerns. Really, this was a very pleasing transfer
As for the film’s monaural soundtrack, it replicated the original material with adequate quality. Dialogue seemed a little thin but 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. It 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. A minor but persistent layer of background noise was audible throughout the film. All in all, this left me with an impression of the audio as decent for its era but nothing more than that.
How did the picture and audio of this new Philadelphia Story compare with those of the original DVD? Both DVDs presented pretty similar soundtracks. I thought this one’s audio was slightly superior, mainly because it presented a bit less background noise. Otherwise, they came across as very much alike, which was fine with me.
When I compared the visuals of the two DVDs, the new one clearly bettered the original in virtually every way. It looked sharper and cleaner, as it lost most of the source flaws evident in the prior release. It also presented superior contrast. I still think it could use a little more work, but the 2005 DVD definitely improved upon its predecessor’s transfer.
One area in which this new set trounces the old relates to its supplements. The original presented only a trailer, but this two-DVD release includes many extras. On Disc One, we start with an audio commentary from film historian Jeannine Basinger. She presents a running, screen-specific discussion that covers many appropriate topics.
We get a pretty good history of the project. Basinger gets into the film’s roots as a stage production, its success in that format, and changes made for the movie. She 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.
Fans of advertisements will love the George Cukor Trailer Gallery. This domain includes a whopping 10 promos for Cukor films. We get the fun trailer for Story itself - which touts the fact that the original play sold scads of tickets on Broadway at an apparently steep price of $4.40 a seat! - plus clips for 1933’s Dinner at Eight, 1933’s Little Women, 1939’s The Women, 1944’s Gaslight, 1949’s Adam’s Rib, 1952’s Pat and Mike, 1954’s A Star Is Born, 1957’s Les Girls and 1964’s My Fair Lady. It’s a nice little collection.
The first disc concludes with a text piece. Awards lists some honors given to Philadelphia Story.
As we move to DVD Two, we’ll focus mostly on two separate documentaries. First comes Katharine Hepburn - All About Me. In this 69-minute and 58-second program, Hepburn narrates footage from her flicks as well as archival materials like home movies and other historical bits. Hepburn traces her personal life and career with candor and humor. She provides nice insights into her work, with lots of behind the scenes details and interesting tales. She also goes into very personal moments like how she discovered the death of Spencer Tracy.
I worried “Me” might be a softball show given its “authorized biography” nature. However, the opposite was true, as Hepburn remains consistently frank. “Me” is a thoroughly engaging and illuminating program.
For the second documentary, we get The Men Who Made the Movies: George Cukor. Narrated by filmmaker Sydney Pollack, it lasts 54 minutes, 57 seconds and includes comments from Cukor about his work. Presented in chronological order, “Cukor” looks at career highlights with specific elements of certain flicks.
“Cukor” mainly acts as a compilation of movie clips. The majority of the show focuses on those. Pollack’s narration fills in some gaps and Cukor’s anecdotes tell us some details about the productions. The latter are good but they pop up too infrequently. The show becomes acceptably informative, but I’d prefer something with fewer film snippets and more behind the scenes details.
Two shorts appear next. That Inferior Feeling presents a nine-minute and eight-second Robert Benchley short in which he highlights various forms of social degradation encountered by men. It remains surprisingly timely and offers a humorous look at the topic. The Homeless Flea gives us a seven-minute and 34-second cartoon about a parasite who attempts to make a new home on a shaggy dog. It’s cute but not terribly funny.
DVD Two rounds out with two separate radio adaptations. Aired July 20, 1942, the first presents a retelling of Philadelphia Story. Hosted by Cecil B. DeMille, this one boasts all of the major cast members. In addition to the three stars - including Lt. Jimmy Stewart, on loan from his stint in the military - Ruth Hussey and Virginia Weidler reprise their roles. The 57-minute and 55-second program sounds terrible, as it’s horribly shrill and screechy. If you can get past that, it presents a fun listen as it pares down the production into a radio-friendly edition.
For the second radio show, we get another version of Story, this one from March 17, 1947. It brings back Stewart, Hepburn and Grant, but no other cast members return. It also takes greater liberties with the tale, as it cuts out and summarizes more sequences. That’s because the performance runs only 29 minutes, 20 seconds and has less time to work. Interestingly, the actors all seem noticeably more subdued here, and that tone gives the material a different spin. It’s another interesting archival piece.
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 DVD provides picture and sound that work fine for their age, and it also includes a fine array of supplemental features.
The movie itself is a fun and fiery piece of work that should be enjoyed by fans of classic comedies and great acting. I recommend this DVD to folks who don’t own the prior release as well as those who do. Not only does it add a solid set of extras, but also it improves upon the picture and audio of the earlier version. This is a terrific DVD.