The Philadelphia Story (1940)
AFI 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ranking: #44
This is always a fun one to watch. Hepburn, Stewart, and Grant at the top of their game.
Tracy Lord is quite a woman. She sets exceptionally high standards for herself as well as for others. She encourages her mother to kick her philandering father out, and also refuses to invite him to her upcoming wedding. Not even her fiancé is exempt – when he suggests potential publicity in the event that he runs for office, she immediately declares, “Not in my home!” The charade she puts on when they initially greet Spy Magazine reporters Macaulay Connor and Elizabeth Imbrie is perhaps closer to her earlier character than anything we see of her throughout the course of the movie. She play-acts as the perfect socialite – condescending and snooty, asking them probing personal questions and trying to catch them off their guard with thinly-veiled hostility. Afterwards, at the library, she does admit that her hard exterior is an attempt at protecting herself from being hurt.
Tracy’s journey of self-discovery begins almost immediately. C.K. Dexter Haven, her ex-husband, sticks around after dropping off the reporters and then proceeds to thoroughly dress her down. “I’m contemptuous of… your so-called strength, your prejudice against weakness, your blank intolerance… You’ll never be a first-class human being, or a first-class woman, until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” Ouch. Next up at bat is her father, who has returned from his philandering to offer this shining piece of advice: “You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman, except the one essential: an understanding heart. And without that, you might just as well be made of bronze.” Last but not least, Tracy’s fiancé adds to the problem by pledging: “I’m gonna build you an ivory tower with my own two hands.” Although well-intentioned, he is enabling the very thing that the others have been reprimanding her for – her distance and her lack of empathy.
Tracy is called a number of things throughout the movie, some of them downright cruel: prig, perennial spinster, virgin goddess, citadel, Your Majesty, marvelous distant queen, radiant glorious queen, statue, and so on. The audience is led to believe that she deserves most of these insults, having looked down her nose at everyone in the past, but still, it stings a bit, and we’re not the least bit surprised when she turns to Jimmy Stewart’s character for comfort (seriously, why can’t they find clothes that fit this poor man?) Macaulay Connor has a writer’s gift for soothing words and just happens to see in her what everybody else has been overlooking due to her harsh nature:
“There’s a magnificence in you, Tracy… You’re lit from within…”
“I don’t seem to you made of bronze?”
“No, you’re made out of flesh and blood, that’s the blank unholy surprise of it. Why you’re the golden girl, Tracy. Full of life and warmth and delight.”
Who wouldn’t fall for those lines after being called out and taken down a peg by everyone else? So of course they end up kissing, and on the night before her wedding, no less! But this little fling is nothing compared to the torch she’s still carrying for Dexter, as evidenced by her hurt feelings when he casually mentions selling the boat they took their honeymoon on. In fact, when she wakes up after the party and is tricked into thinking that her night with Connor was less than innocent, she’s initially more concerned about how this will affect Dexter, and has momentarily forgotten all about her actual fiancé, George Kittredge. And we’re pretty sure that Dexter feels the same way about her, thanks to a hilarious scene between Dexter and a drunken Connor: “Are you still in love with her? Liz thinks you are. But of course women like to romanticize about things.”
On the morning of her wedding during her final confrontation with Kittredge (who we’ve already established is all wrong for her), Tracy lets Kittredge off the hook and ends their engagement. Connor proposes, to save her from facing her waiting friends and family all alone, but Tracy is smart enough to gracefully decline. Of course, Dexter quickly steps in and pops the question in a delightfully roundabout way (two proposals in the span of five minutes! lucky gal). We end with an endearing bridegroom-switcheroo, an impromptu best man and matron of honor, and a victory against our nefarious blackmailer, the editor of Spy Magazine, not to mention two heart-warming exchanges that wrap up the tough love episodes between Tracy and Dexter (“I’ll be yar* now, I’ll promise to be yar!” “Be whatever you like, you’re my redhead!”), and Tracy and her father:
“How do I look?”
“Like a queen, like a goddess.”
“And do you know how I feel?”
“Like a human, like a human being.”
“Do you know how I feel?”
* Yarrr… don’t worry, I didn’t turn into a pirate mid-sentence. It refers to the agility of their boat: “Easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, bright, everything a boat should be. Until she develops dry rot.” There’s quite a lot of comparing women to boats in this movie… I’m not 100% sure how I feel about that – so the man is the captain and the woman is the empty vessel? Not gonna touch that topic with a 10-foot pole 🙂
By the way, how precocious and fun was Tracy’s little sister Dinah, played by Virginia Weidler? Especially her performance of Lydia the Tattooed Lady.
Time to tipple! Here’s some delightful dialogue between Dexter and a very hung over Connor:
“Is that an alcoholic beverage?”
“Is it for me?”
“No, it’s for Tracy. Why, do you want one?”
“Listen, I’d sell my grandmother for a drink. You know how I love my grandmother.”
“Well, Uncle Willie’s around in the pantry doing weird and wonderful things. Tell him I said one of the same.”
“Mind if I make it two?”
“That’s between you and your grandmother.”
Cocktail #1: French 75
Courtesy of Speakeasy Cocktails.
“Cinderella’s slipper! It’s called champagne. Champagne is a great level-eler… leveler. It makes you my equal.”
- 1 oz dry gin
- 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- 2 oz chilled champagne
- garnish: lemon peel
Shake all ingredients (except champagne) in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne and add garnish.
“That champagne’s funny stuff. I’m used to whiskey. Whiskey is a slap on the back, and champagne’s… heavy mist before my eyes.”
The notion of social class is brought up multiple times in the movie, but as we learn, class is not always the defining characteristic in one’s personality. As Connor puts it: “in spite of the fact that somebody’s up from the bottom, he can still be quite a heel. And even though somebody else is born to the purple, he can still be a very nice guy.” We start off with a very clear picture of upper class versus lower class: Tracy, awash with lavish wedding presents, and Kittredge, who can barely get on a horse.
Connor and Imbrie are of the so-called lower class as well, taking the demeaning gossip column job for the money. Despite his standing, Connor is immediately disdainful of the Lord household, mocking everything in it from the moment he walks in. “The prettiest sight in this fine, pretty world is the privileged class enjoying is privileges.” Tracy calls him an intellectual snob, taunting him with the nickname “Professor” due to his literary background.
Kittredge is supposedly a down-to-earth “man of the people”. However, his true prejudice is revealed when he automatically assumes Tracy has been unfaithful and offensive to his “ideals of womanhood”, rather than giving her the benefit of the doubt. And even C.K. Dexter Haven is seemingly without prejudice, but still looks down upon Kittredge, clearly stating to Tracy that he thinks Kittredge is beneath her – not in social standing but in mind and spirit. Bottom line: nobody’s perfect.
Tracy, who perhaps had the biggest character flaw and therefore there most to learn, takes the lesson well enough. She realizes in her drunken state that her feet are made of clay; that is to say, she is flawed, she has been too quick to judge in the past, and that the time to make up your mind about people… is never.
“I have the hiccups. I wonder if I might have another drink.”
Cocktail #2: Electric Current Fizz
Both Tracy and Connor are in dire need of an eye-opener after their night of debauchery, and the electric current fizz certainly serves that purpose. I’m not sure how close this comes to Uncle Willie’s formula – “a formula that is said to pop the pennies off the eyelids of dead Irishmen”, but I think it’ll work just as well. Courtesy of the New York Times.
- juice of 1/2 a lemon (approximately 3/4 oz)
- 1 tsp powdered sugar
- 1 shot of gin (I’m guessing 1 & 1/2 oz)
- 1 egg, separated
- soda water
Shake lemon, sugar, gin, and egg white in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a coupe glass and top with soda water. Season egg yolk to taste with Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Now comes the fun part: shoot the yolk, and chase it with the gin fizz. Bottoms up!