The Philadelphia Story (1940) – The Katharine Hepburn Project #4

Once again it’s time for another installment of The Katharine Hepburn Project! Actually, it’s time and then some. I watched The Philadelphia Story ages ago and have been putting off writing about it. But there’s no time like the present, so without further ado, here we go. Oh, and this review has no major spoilers, so if you haven’t seen this picture, you can read on safely. But do yourself a favor and watch it as soon as you have the chance. You can thank me later.


The first time I saw The Philadelphia Story, it wasn’t The Philadelphia Story. In 1953, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra remade it as a film called High Society. That’s how I first stumbled across this story. They showed it on AMC or TCM, and I quite enjoyed it. My father, however, was appalled that I didn’t know the original. It’s not like it was my fault, but he made it clearHigh Society was a silly and inferior imitation.

Having seen them both, I agree with him, but it was many years before I could make that determination. This was back in the days before you could call up so many films at the touch of a button. Pre-Netflix, pre-iTunes. We had the library and video stores, but I never ran across the original film until much later. And for the record, I do still enjoy High Society. It was fun. But it wasn’t a patch on the original. But to be honest, the first time I saw The Philadelphia Story, I didn’t really get why it was such a big deal.

I think perhaps it had been built up too much. I’d heard for years it was one of the must-see classics. It was the best film from any one of the three principals. It was the funniest thing since the comedy analog to sliced bread, whatever that might be. I just didn’t think it lived up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it. I just didn’t see what everyone else saw in it.

I think I’ll lay some of the blame on timing. At the time I first saw it, I was in a rut of watching my favorite classic films over and over. Any time I tried watching something new (to me), I mostly ended up wishing I was watching Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche in Midnight for the umpteenth time. (Admittedly, that still happens sometimes.) So I probably didn’t give it a fair shake. I did really like the opulent setting. I think I may have paid more attention to the gorgeous sets and costumes than I did the actors. (More the fool, I.)

My reaction on seeing it this time was quite different. This time I saw what everyone was talking about. The dialogue. The character moments. The brilliant and often subtle physical comedy. The interactions between these three first-rate actors, all at the top of their game. This film positively sparkles. Now I get it. But my reaction to it was a bit more complex than that. In fact, that’s part of why I’ve put off writing about it for several weeks.

Okay, so the first reason I put off writing about it is because I was intimidated. This film is good. Like, really good. And it’s a beloved movie that far better writers than I have covered in great detail. That always makes me nervous. But the other reason I didn’t hop to it was because it gave me mixed feelings I couldn’t quite figure out right away. I think I’ve finally nailed part of that, and it boils down to how I’ve changed as a viewer and a person since the first time I watched it.

As I said, my favorite part the first time around was the world these characters live in. The fairy-tale opulence. I like escapist entertainment, and the idea of escaping to this world of tables covered with gifts and pool houses and stables full of horses and grand mansions…yes. That was my bread and butter. So much so that it distracted me from the characters and what they were doing.

Here in the present, I had the opposite reaction. I adored the characters (more about them in a moment), but the setting made me uncomfortable. Rather than escaping into it like I had years ago, I found myself gaping at the sheer amount of privilege these people have. Fancy balls and pool houses? Instead of enveloping me in a fantasy world, it left me thinking about how I’m going to pay for the vacation I have coming up and whether I’ll be able to find a new job when I return home. In these days of a widening income gap, I think I need my escapist films to feel a little farther removed.

The timelessness of The Philadelphia Story worked against it for me. Except for some period-specific dialogue and clothing, these people, and this story, could easily take place now. (Oh goodness, please don’t remake it again. That’s NOT what I mean!) Give me a princess in a castle or a nightclub singer trying to hit the big time. Those don’t feel remotely connected to the here and now, so I can still dip into those worlds and revel in them. In Philadelphia, the fantasy was provided simply by the amount of money and power these characters posses. And yes, there’s some degree of commentary on that, but it’s rather weak next to the comedy and the love story.

Of course, none of that is a direct criticism of the movie itself. It’s simply an examination of my reaction to it as a viewer. As stunning as it is a piece of filmmaking, it’s not going to be one of my go-tos for classic movies when I need a night in. (Another reason for that is the relationship between Katharine Hepburn’s character Tracy and her father. He suggests his marital indiscretions were caused by Tracy because she’s too strong and not soft and loving enough to her father. Um, ick.)

But let’s get back to the characters I enjoyed so much. Tracy is fascinating, and Katharine Hepburn plays her marvelously. She’s strong and steely and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. In some ways she’s rebelling against what she thinks society expects from her, while playing into it completely in others. She’s complex and thoroughly captivating. Dexter is Cary Grant being a delightfully restrained version of Cary Grant. He’s got that wry humor, but he’s not playing it up so far he becomes a caricature of himself. Jimmy Stewart as Connor is, well, a delightfully restrained version of Jimmy Stewart. Both male leads revolve around Tracy, and it’s like watching a solar system with all the gravitational effects balanced perfectly.

However, as far as I’m concerned, Virginia Weidler as Dinah steals the whole darn show. She’s one of the best examples of a little sister in movie history. She dotes on Tracy, but she also wants so badly to be her own impressive person. As much as she adores Tracy, Dinah is wise enough not to want to be her. And she knows Tracy in a way only a little sister can. I remember my own little sis pointing out what was right for me and what wasn’t. I didn’t always believe her at first either, but she was never wrong!

Ruth Hussey as Ms Imbrie has some of the best lines in the film and turns in a stellar performance. As good as her lines are, her reactions to Connor (specifically his relationship with Tracy) are some of the best moments in the movie. Really, I could go down the list and find a great moment for just about every cast member.

I could also gas on about how much I love it when one character pretends to be (or is forced to pretend to be) someone else. Or how I love the screwball love triangle/square/pentagon and all the permutations it goes through in the course of the film. Or how utterly entrancing (and heartbreaking) Kate is when she’s playing drunk–something we also saw in Holiday. Or…plenty of other things. But I think I’ve gone on quite long enough for now.

Instead, I’ll entreat to you to seek out this movie. Watch it, whether you’ve never seen it or seen it a thousand times. And let me know what you love about it in the comments.

About the Patron:

Erik Stadnik (@sjcaustenite on Twitter) is one of my favorite people in the world. I met him in person the same weekend I met my spouse, and I fell in love with both of them in different ways. In fact, Steven and I chose Erik to perform our wedding ceremony. He did it perfectly. He is also the intelligent, well-spoken co-host of three excellent podcasts, The Doctor Who Book Club, Doctor Who: The Writers’ Room, and The Classic Horror Cast. His always erudite and insightful blog can be found at

World Class Aftermath

As I wrote about a couple days ago, the BBC made a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT regarding Doctor Who. I was hoping my cynicism was misplaced and there would be news that was as “MASSIVE” as they claimed. Alas, my cynicism was spot on. The announcement was a new spin-off, a YA series to be set at Coal Hill School called Class.

This is a great thing. I’m thrilled my favorite show is doing well enough to spawn yet another spin-off. I’m not personally excited about watching it, but I’ll give it a chance, and perhaps I’ll adore it and become a “massive” fan. It’s entirely possible. So let me make it clear, I do think this announcement is excellent news.

What I don’t think it is: MASSIVE. Or HUGE. (I’m using all-caps here because that’s what the promo tweets did.)

Doctor Who is currently the flagship show for the BBC. It’s shown around the world to truly huge audiences. It’s not a big surprise they’d capitalize on this with a spin-off. It’s smart business. Good for them. And yes, 20 years ago I probably wouldn’t have believed you if you told me how popular Who would be in 2015, but I’ve already covered that this is a good thing. “Good” and “massive” are two different things.

The BBC still hasn’t learned its lesson. In 2012, they claimed they had an “iconic” actor for the Christmas special. Speculation ran wild, and then they revealed it was Richard E. Grant, a fine actor, but hardly “iconic”. The BBC marketing department was the butt of many a joke for weeks to come. (Okay, years to come–we Doctor Who fans have long memories.)

Tansy BBC tweet

As Tansy says in the tweet pictured above, history is repeating itself. We worked ourselves up dreaming of news that really would be massive–missing episodes returned, David Tennant guest-starring, a Doctor Who movie starring [insert dream-TARDIS team here]. The list went on. So it was inevitable that disappointment was the general reaction. A spin-off might be great, but it’s not as great as what each of us were wishing for in our heart of hearts.

I love Doctor Who. I love that there’s going to be another show set in the same universe. I don’t love that the BBC let me get my hopes up (way up) for something even better. Sure, it’s partly my fault for letting my expectations rule me, but that’s how human beings work. I think it makes the BBC look stupid, and I don’t like when the BBC looks stupid–especially now with all the strain they’re under.

Pretty please, BBC, next time just announce something with less preamble and less time to get our hopes up. We Who fans dream BIG. Bigger than an announcement of a spin-off, however cool that spin-off may be.

Big Announcement? Big Delay!

DW Twitter

So according to the Doctor Who Official Twitter feed, there’s a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT coming from the BBC about Doctor Who. Is anyone else having flashbacks to when they had an ICONIC announcement that turned out to be…not-so-iconic? And the fact they keep saying it’s coming soon–or as soon as they can? Makes it look like they don’t have all their ducks in a row. I find it rather irritating. I’m all for good news, but it irks me when they start teasing something they’re not ready to go ahead with. I like it better when the marketing engine behind my favorite show looks like they have their shit together.

Anyway, the speculation on Twitter has been something delightful to behold. From the truly ridiculous to the…well, to the truly ridiculous! My gut-reaction guess was that David Tennant is going to guest in an episode. (This follows along with some speculation about how we may find out why the 12th Doctor has the same face as an ancient Roman.) But in my heart, I hope it’ll be something about missing episodes. I have no good reason to think that’ll be it, but the delay does make me suspect it’s something more involved than a mere casting announcement.

If the announcement isn’t going out as early as originally planned (which seems to be the case), there’s gotta be a reason. What’s happening (or not happening) behind the scenes that isn’t fully prepped? I suppose it could be a casting announcement, and they’re just waiting on all the pretty pictures to accompany the tweet/press release? Or maybe it is missing episodes, and they’re trying to get them ready for release on iTunes (or iPlayer)? Or perhaps there’s a nifty new web short that’s taking longer than expected to be ready for worldwide viewing?

Regardless of what the announcement finally is, at this point I’m just as curious about why it’s taking so long to tell us!

(By the time many of you read this, the news will already be out there. I hope it’s amazing [and not totally underwhelming] and you’re still celebrating! Three cheers for Doctor Who!)

Thanks, Podcasts

International Podcast Day

Today is apparently International Podcast Day. I’ve got an awful lot to thank podcasts for. They changed my life so very much, and for the better.

It all started with The Nerdist. That led me to Radio Free Skaro. After that, nothing was the same. RFS led me to a passel of other great Doctor Who podcasts. And, of course, RFS also led me to my husband, Steven.  It led me to a whole, huge group of friends-who-feel-like-family, scattered over the entire globe. It led me to Doctor Who conventions. It led me to Canada. Yeah, I have a lot to thank podcasts for.

And now, I’m making them myself! I adore my fellow Verities, and while making Verity! takes a lot of work, it’s so incredibly worth it. Diving back into Babylon 5 after many years for The Audio Guide to Babylon 5 has been an even bigger treat than I anticipated! (And it means I get to talk to Chip and Shannon every-other-week, so that’s pretty fab too.) I can’t thank Jason enough for inviting me to become a panelist on The Incomparable. It’s broadened my horizions in a lot of great nerd ways! And it means I get to play Dungeons and Dragons again for Total Party Kill. SO FUN! Producing the Uncanny Magazine Podcast means I get to hear (and now, read!) amazing stories every month (plus catch up with Lynne and Michael) And Lazy Doctor Who means I get some quality time with my spouse watching our favorite show. Can’t beat that.

Thanks, podcasting!

I’ll close by listing (in no particular order) the podcasts that I listen to (pretty much) every episode of. Continue reading

Whooping it Update

That title is 100% ironic, I assure you. I try to focus on positivity here as much as possible, but boy oh boy is that hard when you’re sick and have been for a long time. Thus, I’ve been a bit quiet this month. I did watch The Philadelphia Story–several weeks ago now. At first I was putting off writing about it because I was intimidated–it’s a really good movie, you know? And then it was because I was just so danged tired I couldn’t make my brain form thoughtful sentences.

It’s amazing how much a simple (or not so simple) cough can take out of you. I’m now to the stage where I wake up multiple times a night unable to breathe, thinking I’m dying. So yeah, struggling a bit to find the positive. Still mostly managing to though. When I’m lying there next to my humidifier concentrating on breathing shallowly, I think about how glad I am to be lying there. Regardless what happens or how sick I get, I’m still constantly thrilled to be here in Edmonton with Steven.

We worked so hard to get me to Canada that even shitty stuff like being sick together has a little hint of sappy sweetness. We get to take care of each other instead of staring at each other over Skype, not being able to do anything to help. (We did plenty of that, and it was heartbreaking.)

So anyway, in another 4-8 weeks (sigh), I look forward to having some more energy and getting back to proper blog posts and podcasts. (Poor Lazy Doctor Who is on a bit of an illness-enforced hiatus.) Until then, things might remain a bit quiet here.

When Sickness Leads to (Mental) Health

lemon tea

I’m sick. I have whooping cough.* And it sucks. But as always, I’m looking for the bright side.** And there is one here. Because in my desperation to feel better, I stumbled onto something kinda neat. One of those minor eye-opening experiences that can brighten up an otherwise mucky day.

My throat’s rubbed raw from all the coughing, so I wanted something hot and soothing. I’m trying to avoid coffee because caffeine and I Do Not Get Along (and the decaf at work is rubbish).*** I’m not generally a big fan of tea/herbal infusions, but I needed something. One of the choices was lemon “tea”. Lemon is supposed to be good for throats, so I thought I’d try it, despite the fact I don’t like fruity teas.

So I brewed it up, and you know what? Continue reading

Stretching is Scary


No, this is not a post about yoga. Though considering how long it’s been since I’ve done yoga regularly, that’s scary too. No, this is a post about trying something new–or at least trying something publicly that you haven’t done a whole lot (and never beyond the confines of your own home).

It’ll probably come as no surprise that this is podcast-related, so it’s not as scary as it could be. But despite the oodles of podcasting I’ve done over the last few years, new things can be intimidating–even new things you’ve really wanted to try.

I suppose I should get to it. I read a story for the Uncanny Magazine Podcast!* Continue reading