Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: The Philadelphia Story

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, October 8, 1999

Tracy Lord. Big game hunting in Africa, fox hunting in Pennsylvania, married on impulse and divorced in a rage.

Special features


Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn. Suave at its best. James Stewart runs away with it. The movie was originally a play, and Katherine Hepburn got the movie rights and got George Cukor to direct. What’s to tell about the story? Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn play an upper-crust ex-couple, and James Stewart and Ruth Hussey play the working class reporters covering their story. The DVD is presented in the original full-frame format, in English, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

RecommendationPurchase Now!
DirectorGeorge Cukor
WritersDonald Ogden Stewart, Philip Barry, Waldo Salt
Movie Rating9
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating8
  • Academy Ratio

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey. Based on a “hit broadway play”. The DVD hasn’t much in the way of extras: besides the film, all you’ve got is the trailer, which is better quality than most older trailers.

The movie is quite interesting seen from modern eyes. Besides being witty and funny, it appears to put forward the opinion that women should accept men with drinking problems who sleep around.

Katharine Hepburn plays Tracy Lord (no, not that Tracy Lord). In a way, this is Hepburn’s movie. She’s the one who bought the rights, and she’s the one who forced MGM to make it. And she’s the star. When publisher Sidney Kidd calls writer Jimmy Stewart into his office, this is how he describes her:

“Tracy Lord. Big game hunting in Africa, fox hunting in Pennsylvania, married on impulse and divorced in a rage.”

The movie is full of great lines. Not “one-liners” in the traditional sense that stand alone, but brick walls where the conversation is going along fine and then Stewart, Hepburne, or Grant toss one in for you to hit at full speed.

“Here, Mike,” says Ruth Hussey handing a handkerchief to Jimmy Stewart, “there’s a little spit in your eye, it shows.”

Man of the people Macauley Connor talking to man of the aristocracy C. K. Dexter Haven:

“Is there a library in town?”


“I suppose you wouldn’t know where that is.”

“Well roughly, my grandfather built it.”

Tracy’s younger sister Diana explains to George Kittridge why the horse might be nervous about George riding it:

“What’s the matter, Bessie, you act worried?”

“Maybe it’s because his name is Jack.”

When Cary Grant tells Katherine Hepburne she should have “stuck with” him longer:

“I thought it was for life, but the nice judge gave me a full pardon.”

Here’s the story: playboy C. K. Dexter Haven leaves or is kicked out by socialite (and childhood friend) Tracy Samantha Lord. After she breaks his golf stick over her knee, he considers punching her but changes his mind and knocks her over instead. Two years later, she’s getting married to up-and-coming coal miner George Kittredge, now majority owner in her estranged father’s company. George is a nice enough guy but pays a little too much attention to appearances.

“Spy” Magazine owner Sidney Kidd sends gossip reporter (but he’d rather be a novelist) Macauley Connor and sidekick photographer Liz Embry (she’d rather be a painter) to cover the wedding. Ex-husband C. K. Dexter sneaks them in under cover of blackmail.

Everyone falls in love with Tracy, Tracy’s father comes back, everyone gets drunk and loses their watches. Then the movie ends right back at square one.

The Philadelphia Story” was remade as a musical a decade later with Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. “High Society” was a very good movie, and worth seeing (for Louis Armstrong alone) but doesn’t match up to the perfect comedic timing and drama of the original. It makes me wish I’d seen the true original, the broadway play, as well!

Everyone in this movie is perfect, from Dinah to Uncle Willy on up to the Virgin Goddess Tracy Lord. The stars are of course Hepburne, Grant, and Stewart. Ruth Hussey gets into the top four for billing in the movie, but is not named in the theatrical preview. I’ve never heard of her. She was also in “The Great Gatsby”, and a number of other films in the 1937 to 1953 time frame. After that she fades away from Hollywood. She makes a wonderful foil for Jimmy Stewart’s crusty wannabe novelist. Macauley Connor refusing the “Spy” job: “Now we’re not going to do it, Liz, doggone it, it’s degrading, it’s undignified.” “Well,” replies Liz sarcastically, “so is an empty stomach.”

Stewart’s earthy sarcasm meshes perfectly with Grant’s urbane, aristocratic sarcasm. In fact, it is the mesh of four different witty sarcastic natures that really makes this movie what it is: add in Hussey’s realistic, practical sarcasm and Hepburne’s vaguely feminist, independent sarcasm and you’ve got an explosively sarcastic mix.

The quality of this black and white transfer is quite good. The movie is in academy format, full frame. You can see scratches and one or two jumps, but these are quite rare, and for a movie that was made in 1940 it’s amazing. The nearest movie I have is Casablanca from 1942. Casablanca received more care in the transfer process supposedly, but The Philadelphia Story is pretty close on my television.

This is a great movie, which I enjoy watching over and over.

Note that this review covers the MGM version. Apparently Warner also has a version of this, with a documentary.

Recommendation: Purchase Now!

DirectorGeorge Cukor
WritersDonald Ogden Stewart, Philip Barry, Waldo Salt
ActorsKatharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
Special FeatureTrailer
More links

If you enjoyed The Philadelphia Story…

For more about George Cukor, you might also be interested in A Star is Born.