Original Vs. Remake: The Philadelphia Story (1940) vs. High Society (1956)

And in this edition of “Original Vs. Remake,” we take a look at The Philadelphia Story (1940) (PS) and High Society (1956) (HS).

The plots are very similar, so I’ll just try to go with the common points of the story. Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn, PS or Grace Kelly, HS) is getting married again. Her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant, PS or Bing Crosby, HS) is back in town, hoping to get her to come back to him. Tracy also has to contend with a writer, Mike Connor (James Stewart, PS or Frank Sinatra, HS) and a photographer, Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey, PS or Celeste Holm, HS), who are there from SPY magazine to cover her wedding. Tracy feels pressure from her father and Dexter, who are trying to remind her that nobody is infallible, including her, which increasingly confuses her, and leads her to start drinking too much champagne, almost getting her into an affair with Mike Connor.

Not really much to say here on the similarities, since High Society is a remake, and does make use of a good fraction of dialogue from The Philadelphia Story, so we’ll just dig into the differences. Obviously, one big difference is the fact that PS is a comedy/drama, whereas HS is a musical. The setting also changes, with it being Philadelphia in PS, whereas it is in Newport, Rhode Island (which may have been because the film was planned as a combination of two films projects, one was a remake of PS, and the other was planned on the Newport Jazz Festival).

The actors’ portrayals are also different. With Cary Grant, I’m left with the feeling that he is bitter over the divorce, which is why his words feel like they have a little more venom, while Bing Crosby’s Dexter is not quite so bitter, and almost seems to have come to terms with the idea of her remarrying (although he obviously wishes it could be him). With Katharine Hepburn, I can’t help but feel like her Tracy Lord has always been a bit of a snob, looking down on other’s faults, while Grace Kelly’s Tracy seems like she wasn’t always so bad (as shown through her flashback when she is reminded of Dexter’s ship the “True Love”), mainly changing as the result of when her father cheated on her mother. And as to the two reporters from SPY magazine, James Stewart and Ruth Hussey’s characters seem more like they wish they could do what they want, but their necessity for money dictates that they have to work for SPY, while Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm’s characters are doing this as a normal job.

As to my own opinion as to which movie I consider the better movie? That would be High Society. I do enjoy both movies very much, but I usually prefer musicals and I like Bing Crosby as an actor. My opinion of The Philadelphia Story has definitely improved (and being able to see it restored on Blu-ray helps a little), but that opening scene still bothers me. I understand how it was done partly for audiences of the time who didn’t like Katharine Hepburn and wanted to see her knocked down, but it still bothers me, since I still don’t have that frame of mind. If not for that scene, I do think it would be a lot closer for me, but I still prefer High Society. However, both movies are wonderful, and I would certainly recommend watching either of them and making up your own mind!

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

My Rating: 9/10

High Society (1956)

My Rating: 10/10

The Winner (in my opinion): High Society

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Time to delve into the classic 1940 comedy, The Philadelphia Story, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart!

As Miss Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) prepares to marry her second husband, George Kittredge (John Howard), her first husband, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) arrives with a writer, Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart), and a photographer, Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey), from SPY magazine, who are supposed to write about her wedding.  As the wedding gets closer, Tracy begins to feel conflicted, with George essentially putting her on a pedestal, while Dexter and her estranged father remind her that even she has faults, and shouldn’t be so harsh with her criticisms of others.

This movie is famous for essentially being Katharine Hepburn’s big comeback movie.  Apparently, partway through the thirties, she had been labeled “box office poison.” I’m not sure what film exactly caused this, although it seems like I read that maybe it was the failure of the 1935 movie Sylvia Scarlett (incidentally, also the first of the four movies in which she would be paired with Cary Grant).  After a few years of mixed to dismal results, she went back to Broadway, and got a role in the play The Philadelphia Story, which was able to showcase her abilities.  Howard Hughes bought the film rights and gave them to her, which allowed her the choice of director and cast (not to mention the ability to star in the movie).

I’ll admit, I’m currently coming off my second time viewing this movie (and the first in nearly a decade), but my opinion has improved over time (and seeing it restored on a recent Blu-ray release helps a little, too).  The first time I saw it, I didn’t particularly care for the movie, especially since I had seen the musical remake High Society for a few years already (and enjoyed that movie very much), so being a non-musical film version was, at that time, a strike against it.  The opening scene itself, as we see Dexter and Tracy separating (with him knocking her down), was also a point against it.  In the time since, I’ve seen another reviewer suggesting that maybe it would work better after having seen a few of their previous screwball films together.  When I first saw this movie, I don’t think I had seen much, if any, movies from either of them, but now, years later, I have seen quite a few (including two of the previous three movies they had made together).  It’s still a little rough, but I can see a little more humor in it (although not as much as audiences of the time, who may have wanted to see Katharine Hepburn knocked on her keister just due to her perceived personality, which audiences didn’t like at the time).

I know I have a lot to say on this, but this is a wonderful movie, and a bona fide classic.  I do very heartily recommend it to anybody interested.  This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 52 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)Cary GrantOnce Upon A Honeymoon (1942)

Holiday (1938) – Katharine Hepburn – Pat And Mike (1952)

The Shop Around The Corner (1940) – James Stewart – The Glenn Miller Story (1954)