The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story Summary and Analysis of Part 4: A Swim


Mike begins dictating the story that will expose Sidney Kidd, as Dexter sits at a desk and writes it all down. As he dramatically reveals Sidney Kidd’s most sordid secrets, the front doorbell rings and Dexter gets up to answer it. It’s Liz, who drolly says, “We’ve come for the body of Macauley Connor,” and Dexter invites her inside to help with the story. Suddenly, Dexter notices that Tracy is asleep in the front seat of Liz’s car and asks where George is. The couple was fighting, Liz tells him before going in to collect Mike, who is still dictating the story in spite of Dexter no longer being in the room. Dexter walks over to the car and looks at Tracy, before getting in the driver’s seat and whispering, “You look beautiful, Red.” As she wakes up, he tells her to come inside, but she refuses. Liz decides to stay and type up the story with Dexter, but Mike come outside and climbs into the car as Tracy starts it and drives away.

The scene shifts and we see Tracy and Mike dancing alone in the yard at the Lord estate. A telephone rings, but Mike and Tracy are so drunk they barely do anything about it. “It’s my bedroom telephone,” Tracy says, guessing that it must be George and going to answer it. When she arrives at the door, however, it stops ringing and she decides to abandon her quest to answer it. Mike pours her another glass of champagne and she asks him how he liked the party; he begins making fun of the wealthy classes and she pushes his chair around playfully. Suddenly, he levels with her, saying, “Tracy, you can’t marry that guy.” Tracy nods and insists that she is going to, calling Mike a snob. She elaborates: “You’re the worst kind there is, an intellectual snob. You made up your mind awfully young, it seems to me…The time to make up your mind about people is never.”

As Mike gets up from the chair, Tracy teases him for being “so much thought and so little feeling,” before scolding him about how intolerant he is. Suddenly growing self-conscious, she wanders over to a column and tries to act more demure, but Mike doesn’t let her off the hook, accusing her of arrogance and being an upper-class snob. She fires back that she doesn’t even think about class, and that in choosing to marry George, she is choosing the lower classes. The duo continues to argue, each of them accusing the other of arrogance. Abruptly, however, Mike begins extolling Tracy’s virtues, calling her “magnificent.” The two of them look at one another for a moment, before Tracy says she should go inside and go to bed. Mike keeps talking, outlining Tracy’s radiance and beauty: “You’re lit from within, Tracy,” he says. Tracy is close to tears, she is so relieved to hear that she does not seem like a bronze statue to him, as she seems to the other men in her life. Mike holds her close to him and Tracy begs him to keep talking, but he is at a loss for words. Deflated, Tracy asks him if his “mind has taken over” and begins to tauntingly call Mike “Professor,” which annoys him. She wanders over to a nearby column and Mike follows her, kissing her passionately. After whispering some sweet nothings to one another, the couple scurries away to go for a swim.

Meanwhile, Dexter pulls up to the Lord estate with Liz. They go inside and Liz takes off her shoes, sighing, “Home after a hard day’s blackmailing.” Dexter offers to rip up the blackmail story, but Liz tells him not to, as “Mike’s only chance to become a really fine writer is to get fired.” Dexter admires Liz’s wit and invites her to go for a swim, remembering the days when he and Tracy would go for a swim after a party. “I’ll have to try it with Mike sometime,” says Liz, which leads Dexter to ask her why she and Mike aren’t married. She tells him she’s in no rush, but Dexter worries that if Liz doesn’t act on her feelings another girl could steal Mike away. “I’d scratch her eyes out. That is, unless, she was going to marry someone else the next day,” says Liz, walking up the stairs. Dexter spots George in the yard and calls him over. George is not pleased to see Dexter and tells him he came over because Tracy wasn’t answering the telephone in her room. Suddenly, Dexter notices Mike and Tracy’s champagne glasses as well as Tracy’s engagement ring sitting on the table and urges George to leave, hoping to avoid a scene.

Before Dexter can get George to leave the scene of the affair, they are interrupted by Mike, who is wandering back from the pool and singing “Over the Rainbow.” Mike approaches the house in a robe, carrying Tracy in his arms. George becomes angry, but Dexter tries to temper the scene and sends Mike upstairs to put Tracy to bed. Dexter cannot help but smirk as he walks back to George and warns him that Tracy is unlikely to remember what happened. George is livid and Dexter asks him, “You won’t be too hard on her, will you?” It becomes clear that George will likely be quite hard on her as he bemoans the fact that everyone around him has “sophisticated ideas!” Mike enters, and George goes to strike him. Trying to head things off at the pass, Dexter punches Mike in the face before George can get to him. George is confused and leaves. Patting Mike, Dexter apologizes for punching him and explains that he wanted to hit him before George did because George is in better shape and could have hurt him more. “Well, you’ll do,” says a groggy Mike, just as Mac the night watchman runs up to check what happened. As Dexter calms Mac’s worry, the camera pans up to an overlooking window, where Dinah sits watching everything.

The scene shifts to the main hall of the Lord household, just as Uncle Willie comes down the stairs. A butler tells Willie that Dinah is waiting for him outside in a horse-drawn carriage and he goes to meet her. Dinah takes her very hungover uncle’s arm and ushers him into the carriage on a matter of great urgency. “I had to be alone with you and this is very intimate,” she says, starting the horse trotting down the road. They make their way to the wedding venue, where Dinah tells Willie all about Tracy’s affair with Mike Connor. Uncle Willie doesn’t really want to get involved, but Dinah feels sure that she has to tell George, and that if her sister marries anyone, it has to be Mike. All of a sudden they are apprehended by Dexter, who feigns ignorance and wants to know why Dinah thinks Tracy should marry Mike. Dinah insinuates that she saw Mike and Tracy that morning, just as Tracy is emerging from the house, extremely hungover herself. She hides from the sun and wanders over to a chair, complaining that she must have gotten too much sun the previous day.

Dinah informs Tracy that it’s nearly half past noon and that everyone is getting ready for the wedding. Tracy is surprised to have found a wristwatch and doesn’t know to whom it belongs. Dinah looks at it suspiciously, assuming that it is Mike’s. When Tracy complains that she thinks she was robbed at the party the previous evening, Dexter pulls her bracelet and engagement ring out of his pocket. Tracy is having a hard time remembering the night, but when Dexter says, “You should have taken a quick swim when you got home,” Tracy becomes suddenly stricken with the memory of the pool and her eyes widen. Dexter goes out with Uncle Willie in search of some “eye-openers,” leaving Dinah with her older sister. Dinah begins to tell Tracy about her “dream,” in which Mike carried Tracy back from the pool. This gets Tracy’s attention, and she scolds her sister for telling Dexter about her “dream.”


In this section we see Tracy get herself into an even more complicated romantic situation. While in the beginning it seemed as though George Kittredge and Dexter would be the two romantic heroes fighting for the socialite’s affections, Mike also becomes enamored of the spunky heiress himself in this section. The two of them are intoxicated and dancing on the lawn of the estate, teasing one another and letting time drift by. As Tracy chides Mike for his intellectual snobbery, his belief that he can make his mind up about someone in an instant, the couple gets physically closer and closer. She goes on a tangent about how intolerant Mike is, and how being a writer must require tolerance above anything else, before realizing that perhaps she is pushing him away by being too strong. He enjoys her fiery personality, however. In Mike, Tracy finds an intellectual match, someone to spar with who is not turned off by her toughness. They settle into an intimate conversation, one which ends with an unexpected kiss.

Director George Cukor uses the camera to show the growing intimacy between these two characters. At first we see them from afar, dancing in each other’s arms on the lawn. As they argue and laugh at one another, we see them as if on a stage, wandering around the frame. After Mike begins to tell Tracy how magnificent and beautiful she is, however, the camera frames Tracy’s face in close-up. From this angle, we are able to see her begin to soften at his compliment, feeling flattered and curious about his interest in her. Katharine Hepburn’s expressive face shows Tracy’s sudden and unexpected enchantment with Mike, her feelings of simultaneous awkwardness and relief. We then see Mike in close-up as well, as he stares at Tracy with an unwavering focus. This shift in the way the characters are shot gives the viewer a window into their affection for one another, pulls the viewer into their expressions and feelings in a new way.

It is also in this section that the theme of class comes up more explicitly, in Mike and Tracy’s early morning conversation. After Tracy accuses Mike of being exceptionally intolerant in the way he makes snap judgments of people, Mike tells her that she is exemplary of the arrogance of the upper classes. At the mere mention of the word “class” Tracy becomes indignant, insisting that social classes are made up of individuals, and that class does not mark an individual’s character. Indeed, she posits, the night watchman at the estate is a “prince among men,” while her uncle is a “pincher” (meaning he pinches and sexually harasses unsuspecting younger women). Based on this understanding of temperament, Tracy feels confident that class has little to do with who a person is. Tracy then confirms that part of her wanting to marry George is that he is a member of the lower classes, and thus bears no resemblance to the playboy Dexter. However much she might exploit her privilege, Tracy Lord wants desperately to escape and transcend it, and marrying George is one way to do so.

In this section of the film, all of the tightly wound social structures begin to fall apart and things get really complicated. While the initial premise of the film was that Liz and Mike were to report on Tracy’s wedding for Spy Magazine, after the facades have come down and identities have been revealed, the plot thickens. Drunkenly, Tracy engages in a brief tryst with Mike. The two share a special bond, an intellectual affinity across contrasting backgrounds, which lends their conversations a great deal of tension. Secondly, Dexter and Tracy still share a special bond, in spite of their recent divorce, and it is possible that each of them still holds a flame for the other. Rather inconveniently, all of these feelings and tensions mount on the day of Tracy’s wedding to George, a reliable and kind-hearted man whom everyone has a hard time believing Tracy actually loves. Tracy is in a confused spot, and it is rather poorly timed. Additionally, adding tension to the film is Mike, Liz, and Dexter’s plot to expose and blackmail the crooked editor of Spy Magazine, Sidney Kidd. What had seemed like a bit of a whacky wedding weekend has turned into a rather suspenseful affair.

The suspense and complication of the plot is compounded by the miraculous pace of the script. In Philadelphia Story, characters do not speak so much as careen through sentences. A single line is often filled with an array of adjectives, references, even emotions. The script, adapted by Donald Ogden Stewart from a play by Philip Barry, is notably fast-paced, which reflects the speedy minds of its clever characters. Indeed, one of the reasons it is so well-suited to star Katharine Hepburn is because Philip Barry wrote it for her on Broadway. The clipped and assured dialogue between Tracy and her numerous suitors reflects Hepburn’s patrician air and her imperious wit perfectly, and serves to heighten the suspense of the film’s plot. As the plot thickens, the script gets all the more mad-dash. The joy of the film, its romance and comedy, is often a direct result of its relentlessly witty script.