Category Archives: Philadelphia Story

TBT To The Philadelphia Story

In The Philadelphia Story, one of the main causes for conflict is when Dext allows the journalists from Spy Magazine to involve themselves in Tracy’s life, the day before she is going to get married. The humor lies in the way Tracy acts when the reporters are there, she acts in such a way that she thinks that the reporters see her since she is a member of ‘high society’ and these people are seen in a different way than others (See Rich Girl- Hall & Oates).


Spy magazine was a tool used to cover exciting news topics; mainly celebrities with egos bigger than their heads, and rich social elites from high societal rankings (See Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous- Good Charlotte). Spy magazine quit producing in 1998; however the legacy lives on. With the upcoming presidential election and many Americans feeling particularly opinionated, Spy magazine has made a little comeback.

Trump is a popular figure in culture today and the presidential campaign. Lately, there has been much controversy surrounding Donald Trump. For example, when Marco Rubio was still in the race (forever in my heart) he commented on Donald Trump’s hands. Donald Trump had responded by saying that nobody ever said he has small hands (along with defending the size of other body parts)… SPY magazine took this as an opportunity to bring their magazine back. They made a magazine cover displaying a baby with tiny hands but the large head of Donald Trump.

Watch this, it’s one of my favorite SNL skits:

trump spy

So, I guess we, as voters, just need to be careful as to what we see as the truth. Are our favorite candidates just putting on a show for us to fit the part they think we see them in? Or, is it the corrupted media that we need to be cautious of? It’s hard to say; however, it is obvious that voters should try to stick to reliable sources, not SPY magazine. We see the deception throughout The Philadelphia Story and the same thing in media sources, today.

Subtle Symbolism in The Philadelphia Story

Whenever I watch a film for the second time, I notice even the most subtle of details or symbolic elements that I had previously overlooked, and The Philadelphia Story was no exception. Despite the fact that I had to resort to re-watching select clips on YouTube (the movie was not available for free online in its entirety), I was able to glean several instances of notable mis-en-scene and cinematic choices that I had not picked up on before. While some may be more obvious or plausible than others, I wanted to share my findings.

My first realization is associated with the first scene of the movie (above), and I am very surprised how I initially missed this distinct cinematic choice. In this scene, Tracy and Dexter have a falling out, and we can determine that their altercation signifies the end of their first marriage. What I had failed to notice before was the complete absence of conversation in their interaction. In fact, it is filmed in a manner very similar to that of early silent movies — with dramatic music and exaggerated actions and emotions. Given one of the central themes of this film, this style make sense. The film’s primary takeaway is the importance of meaningful conversations within a successful marriage in which both parties understand each other’s faults and ask probing questions to help each other grow; the fact that this scene includes absolutely no conversation shows how Tracy and Dexter were previously incompatible and the extent to which they both needed to experience a period of learning and growth to establish a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 10.49.15 PM







My next observation is associated with the screenshot above, which was pulled from the scene where drunken Macaulay is interrogating Dexter about his feelings for Tracy. Right as Macaulay inquires, “Do you still love her?”, we obtain this view of Dexter’s house, which displays a model of a ship and the shadows of what seem to be a miniature woman and man in the background. As we learn throughout the film, boats represent the relationship between Dexter and Tracy. In fact, at the end of the film, we learn about a boat that Dexter had named “True Love,” which is “only comfortable for two people” and is described by the two as “yar.” Boats obviously represent a significant aspect of their previous relationship and allow Dexter and Tracy to speak in their common language. Perhaps the boat and shadow figures in this scene represent the couple and their “true love” and allow the audience to draw a conclusion on their own to Macaulay’s question, “Do you still love her?”

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 10.50.18 PM

While I have to admit that my next observation may be a bit of a stretch, I decided to share it, as I find it incredibly interesting. When Macaulay and Dexter are conversing at Dexter’s house, the background displays three animal heads mounted above a fireplace along with three trophies –one of which is noticeably larger — on the mantel. While I had dismissed the idea that these objects held any type of significance at first, I decided to explore this mis-en-scene further when I saw that Macaulay literally pauses in conversation to stare at these animal heads. Perhaps these three animals represent the three men “going after” Tracy. Throughout the film, it becomes apparent that one of the men (Dexter) is more fit for Tracy, followed by Macaulay and then George. Does the larger trophy next to the animal head on the far right represent Dexter and his victory in establishing a marriage with Tracy in the end? Is it purely coincidence that there are three animals, three trophies, and three men? Everything is placed in a scene for a reason, right?  Just some food for thought.

Ultimately, while the plausibility of some of my findings may be questionable, I definitely think there are intentional and subtle details in The Philadelphia story that are very easy to overlook. Even after replaying these scenes several times, it did take me a bit of time to take notice to these details and establish these inferences. I can only imagine how many other symbols and cinematic choices I would take notice to if I had the ability to study the entire movie in this level of detail.

Hepburn & Tracy: The Real Life Philadelphia Story

Though she is my favorite actress of all-time, I am not the least bit biased when I say that Katharine Hepburn is the greatest cinematic actress to ever act in Hollywood. To prove my point, the American Film Institute even agrees, ranking her #1 on the “Top 25 Female Screen Legends” list. Even the Academy Awards loved the unique actress, with Katharine being nominated for twelve Oscars and winning four, the most won by a single actor to this date.

However, she has been criticized for only being able to act in variations of a single character- the quick-witted, strong-willed leading lady who could strongly match (or outshine) the presence of her male co-star. This criticism was truthful, with the character of Tracy from Philadelphia Story being the closest to what Katharine was like in real-life. But, in a time when female actors were seen as secondary, Hepburn challenged the stereotype by wearing pants, refusing publicity interviews and playing strong women in male-dominated professions, causing her to be seen as more of a leading actor than a damsel both on and off screen.

Because The Philadelphia Story was written for her, it should not come to a surprise that Hepburn’s own life mirrors that of Tracy’s. Just like Tracy, Katharine did not want to be referred to as a “goddess” by the George’s of the Academy, she just wanted to be respected as a human being. In fact, Hepburn once commented “As for me, prizes are nothing. My prize is my work,” further solidifying her stance on traditional Hollywood by not attending any Academy Awards until 1974, when she presented an award. However, Hepburn had her own CK Dexter Haven in her life, who challenged her to grow and be a model for society. That person was Spencer Tracy

Hepburn first met Tracy in 1942, on the set of Woman of the Year, their first of nine films together.  Wearing high heels, Katharine first towered over Spencer (much like Tracy towered over Dexter in their first marriage) and commented ” I’m afraid I’m a bit tall for you.” But the director of the film, George Stevens, was quick to reply ” Don’t worry, he’ll cut you down to size.” It is this quote that really defines the Spencer-Tracy dynamic that both audience and critics loved: an on-screen pair that were equals who could respect (and also reality-check) each other.

Hepburn-Tracy films truly stand the test of time because their relationship embodies a theme that men and women have been struggling with since the beginning of time- finding the balance between personal ambition and personal relationships. Additionally, H-T films satirized this dilemma through having Katharine play the ambitious character while Spencer was the traditional family type, flipping society’s view of gender roles on its head. Their partnership also displayed the cinematic “ideal society” of a romance being compromised of two equal individuals who both support and challenge each other.

With the Tracy-Hepburn off-screen romance was Hollywood’s best kept secret until his death in 1967, audience members could not deny that the couple’s films were filled with delightful chemistry between the pair. However, I believe the Spencer-Katharine relationship can best be summed by this quote from Gene Kelly: “At lunchtime, they’d just meet and sit on the bench in the lot- they’d hold hands and talk, everyone left them alone in their private world”. If the Philadelphia Story wants us to think of good relationships being built by good conversation, I have no doubt that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn had the ideal relationship.

If you have any interest in watching the Hepburn-Tracy cannon films, I suggest you start with Adam’s Rib or The Desk Set. Enjoy!

Are Romantic Comedies Bad for You?

Seeing and discussing romantic comedies with The Philadelphia Story reminded me of a study I read that discussed the impact of recent romantic comedies on society’s perception of romance and relationships. The study, titled Contradictory Messages: A Content Analysis of Hollywood-Produced Romantic Comedy Feature Films (Johnson & Holmes, 2009), looked at what common traits and behaviors romcoms use to portray love and how this influences adolescent ideas about relationships. Several studies have already established a connection between people who consume lots of “romance media” with unrealistically ideal expectations for relationships (Segrin & Nabi, 2002), and other studies have proven that adolescents use media depictions of unknown social situations to develop their own views of how such situations should progress (Bandura, 1986, 1994), so looking at the messages romantic media is sending reveals much about common relationship problems in today’s society.

The researchers highlighted several main traits of romantic comedies that cause problems in relationships. First, surprisingly only half of the films showed or heavily implied any kind of sexual behaviors beyond a first kiss. Non-sexual behaviors, such as hand-holding, hugging, and cuddling, were present in almost every film, but nothing more was shown. This can lead to a perceived disconnect between sexual behavior and romantic relationships. Additionally, the man initiated the overwhelming majority (75%) of any physical behavior, reinforcing the concept that initiating or progressing a relationship is solely the duty of the man (to say nothing of LGBT couples). The second group of traits, compliments, also cemented the highly gendered roles society expects men and women to play in relationships. Men gave 80% of the compliments, 95% of the gifts, and 82% of the miscellaneous “favors” in the depicted relationships. Many of these gifts and gestures were exaggeratedly romantic gestures, such as buying an entire room worth of roses or singing a self-composed song of love in Times Square. Obviously, this sets real-life expectations in all of the wrong places, implanting the idea that these kinds of actions are the true determine of the extent of love.

Romantic comedies do nothing to offset this very material view of love. Of all the observed conversations about open feelings and intentions, a measly 6% discussed trust, and of those, 75% were about how the couple did not trust each other. That means, of all conversations about feelings, approximately 1% of discussions in romantic comedies demonstrate that crucial element trust. To support this distrust, characters lying to their partner outweigh truthful conversations about actions by a factor of 15 to 1. Additionally, early relationships are portrayed as very fragile, with most relationships breaking up after the first fight. The ideas implicated here are obvious: you don’t have to trust each other and good couples never disagree.

Between the lack of honest communication, lack of trust, and emphasis on material goods and deed as representative of relationships, it’s little wonder that so many people are facing relationship crisis in modern society. With a 50% and rising divorce rate in America, few relationships are standing the test of time. The media we absorb definitely plays a part in our relationship expectations. While romantic comedies may not be entirely responsible, it is vital to be aware of the ideals they push so viewers can separate the movie from real life and avoid subconsciously subscribing to the messages they send.

*All cited studies can be found through PSU Libraries website, free to students.


Fun and Games

Before getting into this post, I’d like to say that I enjoyed The Philadelphia Story and found the characters very charming and three dimensional. They were all flawed but learned to overcome those flaws, and their relationships with one another seemed real. But if we are considering that one of the messages of the film is that there is a natural hierarchy led by “exceptional individuals” and that it’s not all fun and games being rich, then I have to say that the movie fell short of its mark for me.

Consider Tracy’s family. The film certainly does a good job of breaking down the idea of the vapid aristocracy–the scene where Dinah and Tracy act like stereotypical snobs to mess with Mike and Liz was pretty funny. But just because they don’t actually spout French and walk around with their arms floating in front of them doesn’t make them naturally better than others. Tracy’s father had an affair and blamed his daughter for it; he may have some positive qualities but this is kind of a deal breaker as far as I’m concerned. Tracy proves her intelligence to Mike by reading his book, but of course she has some taste in books; she could get a better education because she was born rich. Without getting too political, of course I know there’s a lot of hard work involved with accumulating wealth, but there’s also a great deal of luck (especially in old money families). With that in mind, is there anything naturally better about Tracy and her family that makes them exceptional enough to be upper class? Or is their exceptionality a result of their wealth?

Another thing I was rather unimpressed with was the problems faced by the characters. One of Tracy’s dilemmas is that three handsome guys are in love with her. What a tragedy. A little more seriously, she also has to deal with lack of privacy and her own inability to deal with “human frailty,” as Dex said. But especially after watching films like The Grapes of Wrath, this sort of thing seems very trivial. I understand that rom coms aren’t really supposed to be about serious issues. People like to see stories about wealthy people because it’s an escape from regular life and it often involves more drama, more attractive people, more luxurious places, basically something to aspire to. In the end, I liked The Philadelphia Story for its humor and characters, but it didn’t leave a great impact.

Philadelphia Story and the Art of Characterization

Characterization is one of the most integral elements of film, and for me, excellent characterization can make any film great, no matter the quality of its other aspects. It’s pretty clear I value characterization since my favorite movie of all time is Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which is almost entirely an exercise in the characterization of three principal characters.

Philadelphia Story is the first movie we have come across this semester where I really found the characterization to excel. I usually have a main criterion that separates good characterization from bad: moral ambiguity. Compare Philadelphia Story to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In Mr. Smith, it is pretty clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Some viewers may enjoy this clarity, but from a critical standpoint, there is very little to analyze about Jefferson Smith or Jim Taylor. The ideas that each character represents are obvious. But with Philadelphia Story, you cannot simply categorize any character into “good” or “bad.” When you start looking closely at each character, you see that everyone has both good and bad qualities. Try to think about your reaction to each character and how your view of them changed throughout the movie. I know that personally I did not respect either Tracy or Dexter at the beginning of the movie as they both seemed a bit full of themselves and resentful. I also initially saw nothing wrong with George as he seemed like a fine, unobtrusive husband. All these ideas changed and shifted throughout the film. This is what I mean when I say “moral ambiguity”; there is complexity behind the characters.

Now, first of all, it is very important to point out that a more complex characterization is not only in line with the theme of the movie, but necessary to back it up. C. K. Dexter Haven throughout the movie talks about how people must tolerate others’ flaws and be cognizant of their own. Both Tracy and Mike need to come to the realization that nobody, including themselves, is perfect. People have flaws. This paradigm that C. K. Dexter Haven espouses is consistent with reality as we know it, and this is why characterizing people with flaws and moral ambiguities can be so poignant. No one in real life is just a good or bad person. Everyone is some unique mixture of different qualities. Movies have the power to explore many unique and different characters that are neither good nor bad, but both and neither, that are undeniably themselves and no one else. That’s why this sort of complex characterization is so interesting to me; I’ve seen my fair share of Jefferson Smiths and Jim Taylors but never a Tracy Lord or C. K. Dexter Haven.

I was very pleased to see a romantic comedy that explored such interesting ideas. Professor Jordan is right that I cannot think of any other romance movie that really brought up the idea that lovers should challenge each other and accept each other’s flaws.

Box Office Poison: A Continuing Legacy

Katherine Hepburn was introduced to us as box office poison before anything else, including the stipulation that she is not actually related to Audrey Hepburn, which is kind of a letdown. But I digress, box office poison. It’s a term given to actors whose movies tend to flop over and over again,, no matter how much talent they have or how good the movies are. I wanted to google around and see if box office poison still existed. I mean, there are a ton of actors in the world, and if one of them consistently brings down the movies that they star in, they would be dropped from the acting business, right?


This article, which is kind of annoying because it uses a slideshow format, talks about actors who tend to star in movies that make less than is invested in them. And the names on there are surprising to say the least. First of all Michael Cera is on that list. Odd indie music experiments aside (not kidding), who doesn’t love Michael Cera? Like Katherine Hepburn he doesn’t really have the star quality, and his acting/personality is a little niche at times, but unlike her, he doesn’t really star in major films.  Even so, the small budgets of the movies he’s in are only matched by even smaller returns.

Also on that list is Vince Vaughn, which makes sense, because who ever goes to see Vince Vaughn movies? He was good in True Detective though. Colin Farrel is on this list too, and he was also in True Detective. Same goes for Taylor Kitsch. I feel like the author of this article just didn’t like True Detective season 2.

An important inclusion on that list is Mel Gibson. Because for most of these actors, they just star in movies that no one wants to see. On the other hand, Mel Gibson kind of vanished from acting after the whole voicemail incident. That led me to look around for other box office poisons that came around after some sort of incident. I found this article on Breitbart (a Donald Trump-worshiping online “news” site) that claims that of all people, George Clooney is box office poison. George Clooney. Because of his left-wing stances on things. The article is trying to prove a stupid point, but it does bring across one good point: Even George Clooney is susceptible to not doing so well in the box office.

Maybe we should stop caring about revenues brought in and just enjoy actors, because clearly they’re here to stay regardless of how much money they make.


Side Note: I would actually recommend listening to the Michael Cera stuff if you like the music that Professor Jordan plays before class. Songs like Too Much are very similar.