In the next room, Tracy scolds Dexter for inviting people from the press into her home, telling him that she wants them out of her house immediately. “Yes yes, your majesty, but first, could I interest you in some small blackmail?” responds Dexter, telling her about an article that’s ready for publication in Spy about Tracy’s father and the dancer he is having an affair with in New York. Grabbing the article, Tracy insists that they cannot publish it, and asks where the magazine got the photographs. “Sidney Kidd,” Dexter tells her, before informing her that Kidd has agreed not to run the article on her father if she allows Mike and Liz to submit a story about her wedding. “I’m gonna be sick,” says Tracy, to which Dexter responds, “An intimate day with a society bride.” Looking at him witheringly, Tracy says, “I am sick.” Tracy goes back into the other room to inform her mother and Dinah that the guests are not actually friends of Junius, that they are in fact reporters, and that the Lords ought to keep them around. When Dinah and Mrs. Lord question her about it, Tracy tells them nothing about the story about Mr. Lord, but simply insists that the reporters have to stay. “I’ll bet it’s on account of father and that dancer in New York,” Dinah guesses, and Mrs. Lord says, “Is there no such thing as privacy anymore?” “Only in bed mother, and not always there,” says Tracy, glaring at Dexter.
Tracy then goes on a tirade about having to submit to the whims of the tabloid to save her father’s reputation, even though she doesn’t even think he deserves it. “Tracy, we must just be ourselves,” says Mrs. Lord, but Dinah and Tracy agree that they have to make a good impression. Pushing her two daughters out of the room, Mrs. Lord warns, “Promise to behave like ladies in front of these creatures!” to which Tracy responds, “We’ll do our best, Mrs. Lord. I don’t know how good that is.” Mrs. Lord closes the door behind them and complains to Dexter that the blackmailing is dreadful and she is worried about what the journalists will say about Mr. Lord not being present at Tracy’s wedding. Dexter comforts Mrs. Lord, who tells him to go tell the journalists how happy the Lords are to have them at the wedding.
In the house, Dexter tells Liz and Mike that the Lords have accepted them with open arms as friends of Junius. While Liz is anxious that Dexter told the Lords their true identity, Dexter insists that he did not, which Mike accepts. Mike begins to question Dexter about Tracy’s husband-to-be, commenting sarcastically about the “coincidental” fact that George Kittredge works for a company that protects Mr. Lord’s company. Mike then asks Dexter where the library in town is, and Dexter matter-of-factly informs him, “My grandfather built it.” When Mike asks Dexter for Tracy’s leading characteristic, Dexter dryly replies, “She has a horror of men who wear their hats in the house,” looking at Mike’s fedora, still propped on his head. When Dexter leaves, Mike begins to speculate about Tracy’s characteristics: “The young, rich, rapacious American female. No other country where she exists.”
As Mike puts his feet up on the table, Dinah enters the room wearing a glittery necklace and saying “How do you do?” in an affected upper-class voice. Dinah approaches the reporters and tells them how excited she is to meet friends of her brother Junius. When Liz introduces them, Dinah introduces herself in French, telling them she spoke French before she spoke English and that her early childhood was in Paris where her father worked at a bank. She then goes on her tip-toes and prances towards the piano to demonstrate that she can sing and play at the same time. When she sits down, she begins playing a silly song, “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” as Mike and Liz follow her into the other room. “What is this?” Liz asks Mike, and Dinah pounds away, singing all the while. When she begins to enter the room, Tracy spies Dinah acting outrageous in front of the reporters and smiles to herself, before running into the room and speaking French to her sister and going along with the parody. Tracy sends Dinah out of the room after speaking to her exclusively in French, and goes to introduce herself to Liz and Mike, who look completely confused by the theatrical Lord sisters.
Tracy ushers the reporters into the next room, speaking in a jokey lock-jaw voice and asking after her brother, Junius. She tells the reporters that it’s a pity that none of the male members of her family will be at the wedding and invites Mike and Liz to stay for the ceremony, an invitation they accept. “Your father sick?” asks Mike, but Tracy glosses right over the question and tells Liz that she hopes she will take “loads” of photos. Tracy then tells them that no reporters are allowed at the wedding except a Mr. Grace who does the social news, on whom she takes pity for having to stoop so low as a grown man. “You’re a kind of writer, aren’t you Mr. Connor?” Tracy asks him, before grilling him about his writing and his father, an English History teacher. When Mike tells her he grew up in South Bend, Indiana, she affects a condescending fascination and tells them about her fiancé, George, and how he grew up with nothing, before interrupting herself to ask both Mike and Liz if either of them is married. Mike tells her outright that he’s not married, but Liz hesitates. Tracy correctly guesses that Liz was married before, and when Mike indignantly questions Liz about it, Liz reveals that she was married briefly, but that she was young at the time. “You’re the darnedest girl, Liz!” Mike says, visibly upset that she never told him.
Tracy continues to question the two reporters about their biographies, asking Mike how old he is. When she learns he is thirty, Tracy seems surprised that he has only written one book, and asks if he has any other interests besides writing. He gestures as if to suggest that Liz is one of his other interests, which amuses Tracy. “How sweet! Are you going together?” she asks, and Liz and Mike become increasingly awkward. Abruptly, Tracy leaves the room to find her mother. When she has left, Mike turns to Liz and wonders, “Who’s doing the interviewing here?” Liz asks Mike what he wants to do and he tells his coworker that he wants to go home, when suddenly they are interrupted by Mrs. Lord. She too affects a heightened manner and compliments the two reporters before leading them out to drink sherry on the porch. As they go to the porch, Mrs. Lord apologizes for the absence of her husband, telling Liz and Mike that Mr. Lord has been detained in New York by “business with that lovely dancer.”
As the group goes outside, George approaches, greeting Mrs. Lord, who introduces him to Liz and Mike. George goes and greets Tracy affectionately, and Liz snaps a picture. “Say, I’d like to see one of those, Ms. Imbrie,” says George, to which she coyly responds, “You will.” As Mrs. Lord pours the sherry, Tracy spots her Uncle Willie walking towards the house. Struck by inspiration, Tracy yells, “Pappa!” as Dinah and Mrs. Lord look at each other anxiously. Tracy links arms with Willie and leads him towards the group assembled on the terrace, introducing him to Mike and Liz, before anyone can question or contend Willie’s identity. When he spots Liz, Uncle Willie seems almost immediately smitten, and he downs a glass of sherry as the other members of the Lord family play along. Suddenly, Willie looks over into the yard, where he sees Dexter sitting. Dexter says, “Hello friends and enemies,” as Willie shoos him away. Dexter ignores his urgings and decides to stay for lunch. As Dexter shakes George’s hand, Liz snaps another photo.
Dexter and the group engage in an awkward conversation. As Tracy and Dexter exchange barbs, Liz takes more photographs. Lunch is served and Willie—pretending to be Mr. Lord—remarks on how happy he is to be with his family. Dinah leads him out of the room and he stares at Liz as he goes. All of a sudden, Tracy “accidentally” knocks over the table, which destroys Liz’s camera. Dinah comes to the window and beckons Tracy into the house, where the real Mr. Lord has just entered. “Uncle Willie!” Tracy yells to her actual father, before telling everyone to start lunch without her so that she can speak to her “uncle.” When everyone has gone to lunch, Tracy informs him that they are in a tricky situation because of him, and insinuates that he has to pretend to be “Uncle Willie” for the duration of the visit.
We see Liz dropping Mike off at the local library. Inside, an eccentric librarian asks what he is looking for, saying, “What does thee wish?” Mystified, Mike walks around the corner, where he finds Tracy reading at a table. She is reading his book, and tells him that his short stories are beautiful. “You talk so big and tough, and then you write like this!” she marvels, before positing, “I believe you put the toughness on to save your skin…I know a little about that…quite an art.” The librarian shushes them, and Tracy beckons Mike out of the library. Tracy hands the book to her driver and insists to Mike that they walk back to the estate. On their walk, Tracy tells Mike that she liked his story entitled “With the Rich and Mighty” best. The duo pass a beauty parlor where Liz is getting her nails done. Liz watches them walk, a skeptical expression on her face. The scene shifts and we see Tracy and Mike continuing on their walk. She asks him, “When you can do something like that book, how can you possibly do anything else?” Sarcastically he informs her that he has to earn his living unlike her, and that the book earned him less than $600. Tracy then asks Mike about Liz, and he tells her that Liz is a born painter, but that she too must earn her living.
Back at the Lord estate, Tracy shows Mike the pool. They go into the dressing room in the poolhouse and Mike tries to find swimming trunks that will fit him. Suddenly, Tracy calls to him and tells him that she owns a house in Unionville, a little cottage that sits on a hill. She offers for Mike to use it for his writing. As Mike begins to refuse Tracy’s generous offer, Dexter whistles for her. “If he [Dexter] comes here, stand by, will you? I don’t want to be alone with him,” Tracy says to Mike. As Tracy pours him some orange juice, Mike tells her that he cannot take her offer to use the extra house, as patronage “has gone out.” Tracy stops short, embarrassed, and apologizes for “seeming patronizing.” Dexter approaches and takes a glass of orange juice from Tracy, who sarcastically expresses surprise that Dexter isn’t drinking whiskey. Dexter asks Mike if he drinks, and Mike tells him he does a little. “I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives,” Dexter says. When Tracy tells him to leave the estate, Dexter refuses and the exes spar.
Dexter makes fun of the fact that Tracy has never faced hardship on account of her privilege, and informs Mike that Tracy is generous to a fault and bringing up the fact that she never accepted his drinking. “It made you so unattractive!” she tells him, but Dexter continues telling an uncomfortable Mike about Tracy’s faults. “She finds human imperfection unforgivable,” he says, and blames his drinking problem on Tracy’s impossibly high standards. As the couple continues to fight, Mike sneaks away. Dexter recalls an instance in which Tracy had too much to drink and went outside in the nude, but Tracy doesn’t recall. Suddenly they realize that Mike is no longer there, and the couple drops their performance of sparring ex-spouses.
The plot gets a little more complicated when we realize that there is yet another layer of motive surrounding the tabloid story about Tracy’s wedding. Dexter reveals to Tracy that Spy magazine has some dirt on her father and that in order to save his reputation, she must allow Mike and Liz to report on her wedding. With no choice but to submit to the whims of the tasteless magazine, the Lords decide that they will cooperate. In this way, the plot of the film is flipped; we had believed that Mike and Liz would be the ones keeping secrets and remaining discreet in the film, but the cat manages to get out of the bag much sooner than anyone had anticipated. Now it is up to the Lords to keep up appearances and pull one over on the magazine by having a fine and reputable society wedding. Mike and Liz have no idea that anyone knows they are journalists and Dexter tells them that the Lords still believe them to be friends of Junius. Dexter remains calmly in the middle of the deceptive web; he is the only one whose motives and desires are not yet entirely clear.
Dexter is a true double agent, not just in that he is the bridge between the reporters and the Lords, but that he is also a member of the same upper class as the Lords. His money is as old as Tracy’s, which we learn gradually when he informs Mike that his grandfather built the library in town, and he knowingly comforts Mrs. Lord when she worries about her family’s reputation. Thus, we see that Dexter’s loyalty is perhaps complex, that he feels an alliance with the wealthier set and the ways of the Lord family while also having been on the wrong side of Tracy’s temper. In marrying George Kittredge, Tracy is choosing the antithesis of Dexter; George is new money, somewhat unaccustomed to the world of the wealthy, and a bit of a bore. Even though they apparently had a very messy divorce and Tracy seems to have disdain for Dexter, he is well suited to her way of life, fits in with her family, and is accustomed to the privileges of wealth.
Knowing that the reporters are watching, Tracy and Dinah set about performing a caricature of their wealthy upbringing, trying to anticipate the reporters’ prejudice and throw them off. Dinah flits about the room on pointe, wearing fancy jewelry and speaking in French, and Tracy speaks with the affected gestures of a debutante. Not only do the Lords seek to throw the reporters off their nosy case by making their behavior cartoonish, but Tracy also pries into Liz and Mike’s personal life in a way that makes both of the reporters uncomfortable. She asks the duo if they are romantically involved, with a brisk confidence that only an heiress could conjure, and Liz and Mike are left dumbfounded. While the invasion of his privacy makes Mike want to leave the house immediately, Liz thinks they should stay and continue wading through the strange traps being left for them by the tricky Lord family.
At the library, a curious camaraderie develops between Tracy and Mike. While Mike has hitherto played the tough guy, appearing actively skeptical of the fancy lifestyle of the Lords, Tracy stages something of an intervention at the library. Mike stumbles upon her reading his short stories, which she marvels at, insisting that they are “almost poetry.” Looking to form some kind of understanding between them, Tracy asks which side of Mike’s personality is the real one—the hard-nosed macho guy or the gentle poet who wrote the stories. When he tries to tell her that he is both, she calls his bluff, insisting that he uses a tough persona to protect a sensitive inner life. “I know a little about that,” she says, revealing that she too protects herself by performing a tougher identity. The film includes many instances of social performance; the Lords perform as parodies of themselves for the benefit of Liz and Mike, and Liz and Mike pretend to be kind-hearted friends of the family even though their job is to pry into the Lords’ private lives. At the library, Tracy seeks to break down the facades in order to form an intimacy and alliance with Mike.
One of the major themes of The Philadelphia Story is class. While the class differences between the hard-pressed reporters Liz and Mike and the fancy, trust-funded Lords seem at first to be completely unbridgeable, Tracy tries to use her money to buy favor with the two frustrated artists. Having heard how difficult it is for Mike to make money from his writing, Tracy offers for him to stay in a small house that she owns nearby, but never uses. It will be a place for him to write, worry-free. Tracy has the means to help a starving artist, especially a starving artist who could easily write a scathing account of her wedding for a tabloid magazine. Thus we see that Tracy seeks to use her privilege for multiple goods: she can deflect the negative attention of a tabloid reporter away from herself as well as give that reporter the opportunity to leave his tasteless job altogether in order to write the beautiful prose that he is better-suited for. The only thing standing in her way is the fact that Mike doesn’t want to take her up on the offer, insisting that patronage “has gone out.”