The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story Study Guide

The Philadelphia Story remains one of the best-loved romantic comedies—more specifically, a “comedy of remarriage”—of the 20th century, and features a stunning cast of Hollywood heavyweights delivering some of the most crystalline dialogue in movie history. Based on a successful stage play, the 1940 film version was directed by Oscar-winning legend George Cukor and pits Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant against each other as they vie for the affections of Katharine Hepburn on the eve of her wedding to yet a third admirer.

A "comedy of remarriage" is, as one might expect, a film in which two previously married spouses have affairs with other people before remarrying at the end of the film. It was a popular genre of the 1930s and 1940s, serving as a way to sidestep the Production Code of the time, and The Philadelphia Story is a quintessential example. Having starred in the Broadway production, Katharine Hepburn spearheaded efforts to get the film made in the first place, laying claim to the rights for the play and overseeing the selection of the creative team. The actress originally wanted Clark Gable to play Dexter and Spencer Tracy to play Mike, but neither could take the role as they had previous commitments.

Upon its release, the film became a huge success, reversing Katharine Hepburn's reputation as "box office poison" and earning six Academy Award nominations. James Stewart won an Academy Award for his performance and Donald Ogden Stewart earned one for Best Adapted Screenplay. It remains a classic to this day, celebrated as one of the wittiest, most elegant, and enjoyable romantic comedies of all time.