Before the feature presentation we watched two short films, both of which screened before it during its theater run back in 1940.
The first, deserving only of a picture of its title card, was That Inferior Feeling, a hateful piece by Basil Wrangell that proposes to expose the everyday insecurities of men everywhere. I suppose it appealed to women, still thrust at the time under the thumb of the domineering male half of the species. Today it’s terribly dated.
The second short (in brilliant Technicolor!) was The Homeless Flea. As you might guess, a vagabond flea decides to set down his knapsack and erect a hammock between the massive hairs protruding from the haunch of an unsuspecting housedog. But when the flea lights a campfire, the burning sensation ignites an epic cartoon battle over dermal property rights. The dog wins, and sends the flea packing in the end. I really almost think I’ve seen this one on the Saturday morning cartoons as a kid, but I could be wrong.
Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is an annoying socialite and former domestic violence victim – well, let’s say former domestic squabble victim – who has dropped her former face-pushing fiancé (the fantastically-named C. K. Dexter Haven played by Cary Grant) in favor of the bland and therefore doomed George Kittredge. George is so bland that it’s not even easy to find a picture of the character on the web. Just imagine him as if he weren’t there – the rest of the film’s characters will do the same.
Tracy and George are about to get married, and a tabloid reporter decides that a detailed write-up on the high-society wedding would be really faboo, so he pulls in C. K. Dexter Haven (somehow still in the good graces of the family, if not Tracy) to plant a reporter and photographer into the otherwise invitation-only event.
Tracy is not fooled by this not-particularly-subtle maneuver, so C. K. Dexter Haven pulls out the blackmail card – Spy magazine is ready to run an article on Tracy’s father’s philandering – and Tracy reluctantly accepts the presence of the reporter, who sounds just like Jimmy Stewart yet somehow manages to hardly look like him at all. I’m not quite sure what happened between 1940, when Jimmy Stewart didn’t look like Jimmy Stewart at all, and 1946 (“It’s A Wonderful Life”) when Jimmy Stewart looked exactly like Jimmy Stewart. Maybe he had a Mark Hamillesque car accident or something. But I digress. The photographer is Jimmy’s longsuffering friend Barbara Bel GeddesRuth Hussey, who is obviously in love with Jimmy but patiently waiting for him to get over this whole “liking other women” phase. She’s the one for him, she just KNOWS it.
Meanwhile, Tracy’s witheringly cute little sister Dinah is ecstatic at C. K. Dexter Haven’s unexpected return, because with the wisdom of a Nestor she sees the qualities in him that Kittredge lacks. Honestly, Dinah steals the show more than once, with some of the best dialogue of the film and a rousing piano-and-voice rendition of a full verse (the full song?) of Lydia, The Tattooed Lady.
The typical rom-com staples follow, with the possible exception of the love quadrangle, where C. K. Dexter Haven is matched up against not only the boring fiancé Kittredge, but also the intrepid womanizing reporter. The whole thing comes to a head the night before the wedding, when Tracy gets drunk with the reporter because she enjoys him hitting on her, after which they go for a swim. When Kittredge happens around to see the reporter carrying Tracy off to her room, he makes up his mind to call the whole thing off, and in the morning both parties, having finally come to their senses through alcohol and jealousy, are splitsville.
Seeing an opening, the reporter quickly proposes marriage to Tracy. I mean, they were drunk last night together, there’s a crowd and a cake just going to waste, it’s perfect! Tracy declines. But, seeing as there’s a crowd and a cake just going to waste, Tracy decides to marry the smugly victorious C. K. Dexter Haven. In a final slap to the face, Jimmy Stewart gets to be the best man and the always-the-bridesmaid photographer gets to move up to maid of honor.
It’s a pretty funny movie, but as I said, the show is completely stolen by Virginia Weidler’s Dinah. Weidler never did much after The Philadelphia Story, and I wondered why. While the IMDB mini-biography blames this on MGM (Weidler’s studio) hiring the two-years-younger Shirley Temple in 1941 and pushing Weidler to second-banana child star act, this seems unlikely seeing as Temple made one, and only one bomb for MGM before the contract was mutually dissolved (Weidler put out 8 films between ’41 and ’43). Apparently the studios or the audiences did not think puberty was kind to her, and by 1943 Weidler was done in Hollywood at the age of 17. Bitter over the experience, she refused interviews until her untimely death at 41.