The Philadelphia Story: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“The Philadelphia Story” is a remarkable film in more ways than one. In addition to being named one of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies of all-time – it also marked a comeback for one Katherine Hepburn who had been deemed “Box Office Poison” just a few years earlier (oddly enough after “Bringing up Baby” then considered a flop and now considered a masterpiece)! Hepburn also starred in the Broadway version of this and purchased the film rights to it with only one condition: she star in the movie. It happened, she returned to stardom and the rest, as they say, is history. The rest of the cast included James Stewart and Cary Grant – all were at the top of their game. It’s notable that Stewart won the Best Actor Oscar for his role here, even when his role in “Vertigo” was considered his best (and perhaps one of the best…ever). Hepburn originally wanted Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy for the two other roles but they were busy with other projects. Who knows if this movie would have worked as well with other actors, but as it stands now – it’s just about perfect.

The plot is relatively simple and perhaps this is why the movie works so well. Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is a wealthy Philadelphian heiress who has thrown out her husband (Cary Grant) a few years earlier. She’s now set to marry George Kittredge (John Howard) in true society fashion. Dexter (Grant) is now employed by “Spy” magazine who shows up at the mansion the day before the wedding determined to spoil things for his ex-wife. He brings along Mike Connor (James Stewart), a cynical reporter with distrust for the wealthy. In a very short span of time both men fall for Tracy, thus complicating matters even more.

This is one of those timeless movies that will really never go out of style. The casting is perfect, even more so now than in the day. James Stewart, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn had outstanding, prosperous and long movie careers and this is them in their prime. While the story might be a high-society version of “The Taming of the Shrew”, this has it’s own style and substance. The real shocker is that James Stewart won his Best Actor award here instead for some of his better roles (“Vertigo”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Harvey” to name a few). This movie not only established Hepburn as a lead actress again, but as a powerful force in Hollywood. And Cary Grant…well, could anyone else play the suave, sophisticated character like him? No way. Let’s face it, this is a movie that sells itself. Warner originally issued it as one of their initial releases and it’s about time that they got around to giving this the Special Edition treatment. The picture has been re-mastered and plenty of supplements about on this two disc set. For any serious movie buff, this is not only recommended it’s essential. For the rest of you out there, add this to your collection as odds are someone that you know will thank you for it.

Video: How does it look?

“The Philadelphia Story” is one film that it doesn’t really matter what it looks like in terms of video quality. Granted, we’ve paid enough for our televisions so a pristine picture is always welcome, but sometimes just watching the movie is reward enough. This, however, is Warner and they’ve long ago shown us that they take care of their classics. All of this has led me up to saying this: the transfer has been re-mastered from the previous DVD edition and it looks pretty darn good. Let us bear in mind that the movie is now 65 years old, so it’s not going to be flawless. For the most part the 1.33:1 transfer is very solid with excellent quality throughout. Black and white films tend to look better as it’s harder to pick out flaws. There is some dirt on the print and there is some artifacting, but really…it’s not that big of a deal. Suffice it to say that this is by far the best “The Philadelphia Story” has ever looked.

Audio: How does it sound?

Ok…some movies were made for their plot, some for the way they look and some for sound. “The Philadelphia Story” isn’t one of the latter two. The original mono soundtrack is all that’s supplied here and, for the most part, it sounds good. Dialogue from these movies made in the 40’s can sound very hollow and sharp at times, but this sounds fairly decent. Dialogue is clean for the most part and since only one of the 5.1 (6.1 or 7.1) speakers will be used, the range is very limited. At any rate, this certainly won’t wake the neighbors but it’s an above average soundtrack.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This two-disc set has a commentary track by film historian Jeannine Basinger, which is very insightful and informative. I remember seeing Basinger speak on the American Film Insitute special a few years back and she knows her stuff. It’s too bad that Hepburn, Grant and Stewart have passed on, but this should serve as a tribute to them. It’s a great track and one that is a welcome addition. Also found on the first disc is a George Cukor trailer gallery. The second disc features a few notable supplements, starting out with two documentaries. The first “Katherine Hepburn: All About Me – A Self Portrait” is just essentially that. We learn all about the actress, what she went through before and after “The Philadelphia Story” and what made her such a star. There is also a feature found on the “Bringing Up Baby” disc, entitled “Men Who Made the Movies: George Cukor” this isn’t quite as in-depth as most would like, but still gives a very good sense of where he came from and clips from several of his major movies. It’s quite interesting. There’s a cartoon short entitled “The Homeless Flea” and two radio adaptations of “The Philadelphia Story” as read by Grant, Stewart and Hepburn (lest we forget at the time, radio was the other major media outlet as there were no TV’s back then). Plain and simple, “The Philadelphia Story” is one of the best movies out there and Warner has done it justice with this new Special Edition. Highly recommended.

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