The Philadelphia Story (1940) (NTSC)

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Released 5-Mar-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romantic Comedy Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 1.0 (3:38)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1940
Running Time 112:24
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,4 Directed By George Cukor
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Cary Grant
Katharine Hepburn
James Stewart
Ruth Hussey
John Howard
Roland Young
John Halliday
Mary Nash
Virginia Weidler
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Franz Waxman


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Spanish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    When considering the beloved stature that Katharine Hepburn attained as an actor, evidenced by the large outpourings of grief and condolences upon her death, it is hard to imagine that at one time she was considered poison, to be avoided when casting a film. But that was indeed the situation that she was in and it was only the emergence of The Philadelphia Story on film that brought her back into prominence as a star. Mind you it was hardly surprising that this film was a hit. After all, it was based upon a long running Broadway play that was very successful in its own right, and the film starred two screen greats in addition to Katharine Hepburn: Cary Grant and James Stewart. Nor was it really surprising that Katharine Hepburn was so successful in this film: she after had starred in the Broadway play to much acclaim. The story itself was so successful that it also went on to be another very successful film when done as a musical - High Society.

    The story itself is quite simple. The film opens with Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) throwing out her husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), he being deemed of insufficient class for this high-class filly. Two years later and Tracy is now about to marry the much more suitable George Kittredge (John Howard), who though not of upper class blood is certainly of upper class manner. Being a Philadelphia society wedding, it obviously attracts the attention of the media, but things seem to be progressing towards the wedding without too many hitches. At least that is until Dexter returns from a sojourn abroad working for Spy magazine. He is determined to exact revenge upon Tracy and wreck the wedding. To this end he agrees to aid the editor of the magazine in getting writer Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) and photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) into the Lord household to record the events for the magazine. This was to be done on the sly until Dexter confesses the truth to the Lord family and gains their cooperation through the simple expedient of blackmail, as a result of some indiscretions of Tracy's father Seth (John Halliday). While Dexter only hopes to derail the wedding, Macaulay has a deep resentment of the filthy rich and makes this well known to Tracy. However events unfold that have a profound impact upon not just the wedding but the relationships of the people involved in this little romp through upper class society of Old America.

    This may be a simple enough story, but the film is a winner simply because of the superb cast. If there was anyone better that could have played the role of Tracy Lord at the time, I am failing to recall them. Katharine Hepburn plays the imperious goddess to absolute perfection and her downfall to mere mortal is so well done that you are left wondering who could have done it better. She may have been box office poison at the time, but this was a role she was born to play. Cary Grant plays her ex-husband very well, even if it is obvious that his preeminence as a romantic comedy lead was still to come. James Stewart won his only Best Actor Oscar for this effort. While he was never capable of a poor performance, there are far better efforts of his that deserved an Oscar much more than this. Still, the man was always so good, why quibble over which film he got the Oscar for? We should only quibble over the fact he did not win a heck of a lot more. The rest of the cast were very good too, even though most were only very small roles in the overall flow of the film. You can certainly tell the stage origins of the film, as they really did not flesh out any of the other characters much at all.

    George Cukor of course directed some really great films in his time, none more so than My Fair Lady in my opinion. This is certainly up to that standard, being a very taut film that does not linger any longer than necessary anywhere, and taking full advantage of both the excellent screenplay and the superb cast. The whole film really has a natural, believable quality to it that is as fundamentally as good today as it was sixty years ago.

    It is not hard to see why The Philadelphia Story ranked so high in the contemplations of the American Film Institute Top 100 films of the twentieth century. Some of the dialogue here is as witty as it was all those years ago, and the quality of the acting is well beyond the quality that we see today. It's well worth while investigating this one, especially for those wanting some representation of the better romantic comedies on film for their collections.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format that is fairly obviously not 16x9 enhanced. This equates closely to the Academy Ratio that the film was originally shown in. Unfortunately, this is an NTSC formatted DVD so unless you have the equipment to handle the format, you might as well go and play with that voodoo doll of the head of Warner Home Video.

    The transfer is actually not too bad at all, given that it has not been subject to a full restoration. It is generally quite sharp, although the presence of just Katharine Hepburn on screen does mean the obligatory soft focus look that was so much a part of film making of this era. Detail and definition were very good indeed, much better than I was anticipating and in many ways amongst the very best that I have seen in a black and white film for quite a time. Shadow detail is almost perfect just about the whole time, and there are very few places where you would have cause to even raise a slight doubt. Grain is unfortunately consistently present throughout, but it is generally very light and not a serious impediment to the transfer in any way. Clarity as a result is better than expected.

    The black and whites tones are very solid, very good especially to the blacks, and with some wonderful detail across the grey scales. The film is especially well contrasted so that there is little evidence of merging of the tones at all. A really nice solid looking transfer in all respects.

    Aside from some inherent source material issues, there are no MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There are few obvious film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, but there is a consistent shimmer which can be seen in camera movement. There is some aliasing in the car trim at 36:28, in the door at 41:53, and the picture frame at 66:41, indicative of the minor aliasing that does sometimes crop up. Unfortunately there are plenty of film artefacts in this transfer, with the most obvious being the reel change markings. This indicates that we are not talking about a really original source print here, which is rather disappointing. Aside from that, there are plenty of specks to be seen, with the occasional scratch and damage to highlight the transfer too. It is a great shame that a full restoration has not been done to the film, in order to tidy the source material up a lot more than here.

    This is a single sided, single layer DVD so there is no layer change to be negotiated.

    There are four subtitle options on the DVD, of which two are English and English For The Hearing Impaired options. They are both pretty good although the odd piece of dialogue has been changed a little in order to fit the gist on-screen.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being the original mono soundtrack in Dolby Digital 1.0. The language is English.

    The dialogue comes up pretty well in the transfer, and audio sync seems to be spot on.

    The original music score comes from one of the greats of the pre-war period - Franz Waxman. Like most of the scores he composed, this is a solid piece of work that does an admirable job for the film. Unfortunately, it does suffer a little from the underlying quality of the soundtrack, which is to be expected in a film of over sixty years of age.

    Since this is a very dialogue driven film, the demands placed upon the sound is not great - so the fact that we have the original mono soundtrack is not a great problem at all. Given the rather primitive nature of sound recording of the era, what we have is a fairly decent soundtrack. There is thankfully not much in the way of background hiss, and not much in the way of minor distortions. But like most mono soundtracks, there is a distinct lack of dynamic and the sound is a tad congested when the dialogue is backed by some music.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

   Not a lot here, which is a great shame.

Menu

   Understated but with very little to do.

Theatrical Trailer (3:38)

   Ye gods, this looks pretty dire indeed. With film artefacts galore, including what appears to be extensive evidence of mildew damage, this is not one of the better trailers you will see. Okay, it is over sixty years old, but surely some restoration work could have been done on it? Also featuring some aliasing, in general this is not a pretty sight. Which is a great shame as it is a good trailer, one that manages to give the impression of giving away the ending without actually doing so. The Full Frame presentation is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with slightly strident Dolby Digital 1.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Very easy indeed since this is the Region 1 release. However, there was a previous Region 1 release too, by MGM itself before Ted Turner acquired the rights to the film, which was the same transfer that graces this Warner Home Video release. Oh, and we get an Amaray case rather than a snapper...

Summary

    Given the enormous number of films that they had to consider, that The Philadelphia Story was selected in the American Film Institute's greatest 100 films of the twentieth century is indication enough of the film's quality. Whilst it perhaps loses something in the translation to foreign shores - the American infatuation with class is somewhat different to that found in more traditional class based societies - the comedy is still relevant and the execution of the three main leads is sterling. I have rarely seen this film, since it is very surprisingly not one that my father drags out for watching all that often. However, whenever I have seen it I have always enjoyed it. It was very good to see it again on DVD. Recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, December 01, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
R1 SE is now the pick - tiggers