The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story Summary and Analysis of Part 5: The Wedding


The Lord sisters are interrupted by their father, who tells Dinah that Mrs. Lord wants to speak with her. Tracy goes to her father and tells him that she’s glad he came to the wedding, adding, “I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment to you.” Mr. Lord pats her on the shoulder and tells her he has never thought of her as a disappointment, and never will, then goes back in to the house. Mike then comes out of the house, also hungover, and walks towards Tracy, who backs away and speaks formally to her flame from the previous night. Dinah leaves to give them some privacy, but not before reminding Tracy that it’s getting late. Tracy notices a slight bruise on Mike’s chin from where Dexter punched him, and they engage in some stilted awkward conversation. When Mike mentions that he especially loved the final part of their evening together, Tracy becomes increasingly anxious and wants to know what he means. He reminds her of their swim and holds her hands affectionately, calling her “darling.” She stands abruptly, trying to get away from him. “Then you’re going through with it, are you?” Mike asks, referring to the wedding. Tracy’s eyes widen and she says, “Why shouldn’t I?” to which Mike responds, “…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-he can still be a very nice guy.” Tracy holds her head in distress and asks Mike for the time, but he cannot find his watch. She points out that it’s on the table and Mike decides to go find something to ease his hangover.

Inside, Mrs. Lord talks on the telephone, as Mike enters and looks for an “eye opener.” When she hangs up the phone, she mistakes him for a musician before asking him if he happens to have any violin strings. Mike tells her he does not and she rushes off. Dexter comes in carrying a drink made by Uncle Willie and tells Mike that he and Liz wrote up the story about Kidd and plan to deliver it to him after the wedding. Mike desperately wants a drink himself and goes off to the pantry to get one of his own while Dexter goes outside to talk to Tracy, who is sitting alone at a table in the yard. He brings her the drink—“a type of stinger”—and advises her to drink, but she bursts into tears before he can say another word. “Oh Dexter, I’ve done the most terrible thing to you,” she tells him. Dexter insists that she must be confusing him with George, and when she remembers her fiancé, Tracy rushes to call him and tell him what happened with Mike. Over the phone, Tracy frantically tells George that she has to meet with him, even if it’s bad luck.

As she hangs up, Dexter informs Tracy that George was there when Mike carried her back from the pool the previous night and knows all about what happened. The ex-spouses sit down at a table and Dexter asks Tracy whether she liked his wedding present, the model of the sailboat. “It was beautiful and sweet, Dex,” she assures him, and the duo reminisces about the boat and how wonderful it was. Dexter informs Tracy that he’s going to sell the True Love and getting a new, more pragmatic boat, which he will call True Love 2. Tracy weeps at the thought of Dexter selling the boat and talks about how ashamed she is of her actions. “I don’t know anything anymore!” she complains to him, just as Mrs. Lord interrupts them to tell Tracy to get ready for the ceremony. Mike, Liz, and the priest who will be presiding over the ceremony stand in the doorway. Mrs. Lord takes the priest to meet the grandmother of the bride, and on her way out informs Dexter that a message came through that Sidney Kidd is at his house and “he’s reading it.” Liz and Mike walk over to Tracy and Dexter.

Tracy pulls out a note from George. He has decided not to go through with the wedding given her conduct the previous evening. As Liz and Mike try to slowly walk out of the room, Tracy stops them, urging them to keep listening. She reads: “your conduct last night was so shocking to my ideals of womanhood...that my attitude toward you and the prospect of a happy and useful life together has been changed materially.” In the middle of the next sentence, George enters. Looking at him, Tracy tells him that she has no explanation for her behavior the previous evening, and advises him, “You’d better just say good riddance.” Liz turns to Mike and tells him to say something, as George begins angrily to scold Tracy for having an affair on the eve of their wedding. Mike interjects to inform George that “this so-called affair consisted of two kisses and a late night swim, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed and the memory of which I wouldn’t part for anything!” George changes his tune a bit as he realizes that nothing substantive occurred between Tracy and Mike. Rather unexpectedly, Tracy begins scolding Mike for not finding her more attractive, but he assures her that she was too intoxicated to sleep with, but indeed, very attractive.

Liz comments, “We all go haywire at times and if we don't, maybe we ought to,” and George decides that he is willing to overlook the evening and move forward with the wedding if Tracy agrees never to drink again. Tracy declines, telling George that there were things about her drunken self that she liked. Mrs. Lord enters and informs Dexter that Sidney Kidd has arrived at the wedding and has a message: “Tell Haven he wins. Tell him I’m licked.” When George turns to Tracy and tells her he wants to forgive and forget, she tells him once and for all that she doesn’t want to get married. She tells him, “You're too good for me, George. You're a hundred times too good...And I'd make you most unhappy, most—That is, I'd do my best to.” George accepts her rejection, but grows angry at her and at Dexter, and at their “whole rotten class.” After George has stormed out, the group hears the wedding processional begin. Tracy looks into the wedding and realizes that it has begun, and turns back to Dexter, Mike, and Liz for advice on what to do. Mike grabs Tracy and proposes, hoping to fix the whole mess. Looking on, both Dexter and Liz look worried, but Tracy refuses his proposal, smiling. When Mike wants to know why she doesn’t want to marry him, Tracy replies, “Because I don’t think Liz would like it.”

Mr. and Mrs. Lord come into the room having just spoken to George, and Mr. Lord offers to say a quick word to let everyone know the wedding is called off. Tracy wants to do it herself, and goes into the ceremony to speak to her guests. Nervously, she says, “I’ve made a terrible fool of myself, which isn't unusual. And my fiancé, my fiancé that was, that is, he thinks we'd better call it a day. And I quite agree with him.” Turning to Dexter, Tracy asks what she ought to say next, and he begins dictating, telling her to explain herself about the fact that 2 years earlier she invited a group to her house for her wedding to Dexter, but promptly eloped. On Dexter’s prompting, Tracy tells her guests, “I hope to make it up to you by going beautifully through with it now as originally and most beautifully planned.” Dexter has asked her to marry him once again, and with tears in her eyes, Tracy runs into his arms. Dexter asks Mike to be his best man and Tracy asks Liz to be her matron of honor. They both agree and Tracy and Dexter decide to go through with the wedding they never had. Before walking down the aisle, Tracy tells her father how much she loves him and that she feels like a “human being.” From the congregation, Dinah turns to Uncle Willie and takes credit for the whole thing, while Sidney Kidd walks up behind Willie and takes a photo of the bride and groom for Spy Magazine.


In the final section of the film, we see Tracy deflated by the complication of her situation. While she has been a formidable and outspoken character hitherto, she must now fight a brutal hangover on the day of her wedding, face the wrath of her jealous fiancé, the bright-eyed adoration of Mike, and the knowing expressions of her ex-husband. Before any of the wedding guests have arrived, Tracy weeps at a dining table, fretting about the giant mess she’s found herself in. It is as though the chiding words of Dexter and her father have truly gotten to her, and she thinks that her strength of character and boldness have in fact landed her in a conundrum. Tracy’s frightened and saddened attitude is unexpected and uncharacteristic, showing the viewer the difficulty and confusion of her circumstances.

Indeed, the circumstance seems particularly complicated because of her apparent love for her ex-husband Dexter. Dexter seems like the only man with whom Tracy can truly let her guard down and be herself. As they sit in the garden and discuss the mess she’s found herself in, he asks her how she liked his wedding present, a model of the sailboat that they captained together on their honeymoon. The boat is, rather aptly, called the True Love, and it is a symbol for the love shared between the two of them. When Dexter speaks about the boat in the past tense, Tracy insists that it is still a beautiful boat, and stares off into the distance thinking about it with a longing in her eyes. When Dexter tells her he is going to sell the boat, Tracy becomes upset. Dexter’s sale of the boat symbolizes his finally moving on from their relationship and the dissolution of their “true love.” While she doesn’t quite realize it at this moment, Tracy is still in love with Dexter and cannot bear the thought of losing him for good.

It does not take her long to realize that Dexter was the man for her all along, however. After George becomes belligerent about her indiscretion the previous evening, revealing his rather humorless and territorial relationship to his wife’s actions, Tracy has all the information she needs to reject him once and for all. He is not the right man for her, and his forbidding and retributive attitude towards her indiscretion proves just how ill-matched he is for the free-spirited and strong-willed socialite. With the wedding processional beginning, and no one to marry, Tracy finds herself in a pickle, but her ex-husband Dexter soon comes to the rescue. As she speaks directly to her wedding guests, Dexter dictates a speech into her ear. Delicately, he drops his proposal into this dictation, and the couple—who previously eloped—decide to give it a second go and get married in a traditional ceremony.

Thus we see that The Philadelphia Story fits perfectly into its label as a “comedy of remarriage.” After going through a number of conflicts and hijinks on the way to their restorative conclusion, the original couple comes together once again and realizes that they were always right for each other all along. Just before walking down the aisle, Tracy goes to her father and tells him how happy she is to have him at her wedding and how much she loves him. She tells him that she feels like a “human being,” not like the icy and impenetrable socialite that she has been previously. He expresses his pride for her, before delivering her to Dexter. Just as Mr. Lord has returned to Tracy’s mother after his own wayward moment, Dexter has returned to Tracy, who takes him back with open arms. The film depicts couples who are simply too hard on each other, and celebrates their ability to forgive one another.

Even though the film wades into some more sentimental territory in its final moments, it still retains its light-hearted and screwball tone. Part of the appeal of this romantic comedy is its ability to switch tones effortlessly between moving and silly. Moments after Mike proposes to Tracy and Tracy urges him to stay with a teary-eyed Liz, Dexter is whispering an insinuated proposal in Tracy’s ear as she addresses a roomful of confused wedding guests. The image of the new bride trying to coherently explain that she and her intended spouse have split up while her ex-husband whispers instructions in her ear is an undeniably absurd one. Moments later, Tracy is making amends with her absent father, and the father and daughter speak earnestly to one another; Tracy tells him she is for once a “human being” and he tells her he is proud of her. As he walks her to the altar and it seems as though the film is over, the crooked Sidney Kidd pops up behind Uncle Willie and snaps a photograph of the confused looking bride and groom. The Philadelphia Story charms precisely because of its juxtaposition of the heartfelt and the comic. In the film, as in life, nothing is ever quite perfect, but that keeps things exciting.