Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

When Dinah first meets the SPY reporters, she is en pointe (tip-toes) in a mock-balletic pose under a doorway arch - she puts on a theatrical act as she greets them, parodying the way she thinks SPY Magazine would conceptualize her well-bred behavior. Dinah explains how her real name, Diana, was changed by her sister, and then she boasts about her French: "I spoke French before I spoke English." On pointed toes, she moves to an adjoining room and sits at a piano, where she plays a loud and raucous song with risque lyrics, a Groucho Marx number titled Lydia the Tattooed Lady:

Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Oh Lydia the Tat-tooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so, and a torso even more so
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pedia.
Oh Lydia, the Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is the Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it the Wreck of the Hesperus, too.
And proudly above waves the red, white, and blue.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!...

Mike and Liz stand at the doorway - bemused and perplexed at the same time: "What is this?" Tracy's appearance through another doorway is similarly imaginative and overexaggerated with high society manners - she hugs her younger sister and they chat mindlessly in French. Tracy, smiling sweetly and being a gracious host, guides the magazine's representatives over to a couch and sits on the table in front of them.

In a spirit of airy playfulness, she snidely entreats them to stay with a commanding and lofty presence, displays outrageous mannerisms and movements as an affected debutante, and then immediately turns the tables on them by beginning to interview Mike:

Tracy: You're a kind of, um, writer, aren't you, Mr. Connor?
Mike: Sort of.
Tracy: A book?
Mike: Yes.
Tracy: Under what name do you publish?
Mike: My own. Macauley Connor.
Tracy: What's the 'Macauley' for?
Mike: Well, my father taught English History. I'm, I'm Mike to my friends.
Tracy: Of whom you have many, I'm sure. English History - it's always fascinated me. Cromwell, Robin Hood, Jack the Ripper. Where did he teach? I mean your father -
Mike: In a little high school in South Bend, Indiana.
Tracy: South Bend! It sounds like dancing, doesn't it? You must have had a most happy childhood there.
Mike: Yeah, it was terrific.
Tracy: I'm so glad.
Mike: No, I didn't mean it that way.
Tracy: I'm so sorry. Why?
Mike: Uh, well, lack of where-with-all I guess.
Tracy: But that doesn't always cause unhappiness, does it? Not if you have the right kind of man. George Kittredge, my fiancee, never had anything either and he...

Tracy makes the intruders feel even more awkward by her impertinent comments, by her gesticulating and affected speech, and by asking more personal questions about Liz's background and the relationship between them:

Tracy: Are either of you married?
Mike: No.
Liz: Uh, no.
Tracy (to Liz): You mean you were, but now you're divorced...Well, come now Miss Imbrie, surely you're not ashamed of it.
Liz: Well, of course I'm not ashamed of it.
Mike (surprised): WHAT!?
Liz: Well, it was years ago. I was only a kid in Duluth.
Mike: Well, good heavens Liz! You never told me anything...
Liz: You never asked me.
Mike: Well, I know, but you...
Liz: Joe Smith. Hardware.
Mike: You're the darnedest girl, Liz.
Liz: I think I'm sweet.
Tracy: Duluth. That must be a lovely spot. It's west of here, isn't it?...And this is your first visit in Philadelphia? It's a quaint old place, don't you think, filled with relics. And how old are you, Mr. Connor?
Mike: Thirty.
Tracy: One book isn't much for a man of thirty. Well, I don't mean to criticize. You probably have other interests outside your work.
Mike: None, I mean unless... (He gestures to acknowledge his friendship with Liz)
Tracy: How sweet. Are you going together?
Liz: Well, that is an odd question I must say.
Tracy: Well, I don't see why. I think it's very interesting. Miss Imbrie. Don't you agree that if a man says he loves a girl, he ought to marry her?
Mike: Can she be human?
Tracy: Please, Mr. Connor! I asked Miss Imbrie a question.
Liz: That depends. I-
Tracy: I'll see what's keeping Mama. (Tracy promptly leaves the room)

Mike is wary of Tracy and wants to give up on the assignment for good, but Margaret enters the room and bubbles over with hospitality toward the guests. On their way to the porch to drink sherry, Dinah's yo-yo (from her hand) intrudes into the left side of the frame. Margaret apologizes for her husband's absence: "We expect him presently. He's been detained in New York on business with that lovely dancer, Tina Mara. Do you know her work?"

George Kittredge arrives and is introduced to 'Junius'' friends. He kisses his fiancee warmly:

Mike: I guess this must be love.
George (admits): Your guess is correct, Mr. Connor.
Tracy: I'm just his faithful old dog Tray.
George (commands): Give me your paw!
Tracy: You've got it. (He takes her hand and kisses it)

Before lunch, Uncle Willie appears. As part of the charade, he is drafted to play the role of the absent Mr. Lord. Tracy greets him effusively and enthusiastically as "Papa": "Dear Papa. You angel. To get here in time for lunch." Uncle Willie is totally amazed when introduced as 'Mr. Lord' to their friends, Miss Imbrie and Mr. Connor. Dexter also joins their company and shakes hands with Kittredge, providing Liz with many more picture opportunities. He is antagonistic toward his male rival (comparing them to "Grant and Lee"):

Dexter: You don't look as well as when I last saw you, Kittredge. Oh, you poor fellow. I know just how you feel...Why, you don't look old enough to get married. Not even the first time. And then you never did. She needs trouble to mature her, Kittredge. Give her lots of it.
George: I'm afraid she can't count on me for that.
Dexter: No, that's too bad. Sometimes, for your own sake, Red, I think you should have stuck to me longer.
Tracy: I thought it was for life, but the nice Judge gave me a full pardon.
Dexter: Aw, that's the old redhead, no bitterness, no recrimination, just a good swift left in the jaw.

When lunch is announced, Uncle Willie/Seth remarks about his fine family: "I don't suppose a man ever had a better or finer family. You know, I often wake up in the night and say to myself, Seth - you lucky dog. What have you done to deserve it all?" Margaret remarks: "And what have you?"

Mrs. Lord and Tracy are both stunned when the real Mr. Lord walks into the front hall. To keep up the pretense, Tracy greets her father as Uncle Willie:

Tracy: Uncle Willie! Uncle Willie! How nice.
Seth: I beg your pardon.
Tracy: Please go on into lunch, everyone. I want a word with Uncle Willie... (As they march into the dining room, Dexter waves and smiles at Tracy)
Seth: I'm afraid I don't understand.
Tracy: You never have, but you came anyway, didn't you?
Seth: Oh! Still Justice, with her shining sword - eh, daughter? Who's on the spot?
Tracy: We are, thanks to you - Uncle Willie.

After lunch, Mike Connor goes to the public library in town to do some serious research on the Lords' family history. Among the stacks, he finds Tracy at one of the tables reading his book of short stories because none were available for sale in the bookstore. He cautions her about reading his material, but she is quickly smitten and enchanted by his poetic ability:

Mike: Well, are you sure you're doing the right thing? You know what happens to girls like you when they read books like mine. They begin to think. That's bad.
Tracy: These stories are beautiful. Why, Connor, they're almost poetry.
Mike: Well, don't kid yourself - they are.
Tracy: I can't make you out at all, now.
Mike: Really? I thought I was easy.
Tracy: So did I. But you're not. You, you talk so big and tough - and then you write like this. Which is which?
Mike: Both, I guess.
Tracy: No. No I-I believe you put the toughness on to save your skin.
Mike: Do you think so?
Tracy: I know a little about that.
Mike: Do you?
Tracy: Quite a lot.

As they walk back to the Lord's estate, Tracy tells Mike that she likes his story "With the Rich and Mighty" the best. Mike explains how he got the title from an old Spanish peasant's proverb: "With the Rich and Mighty Always a Little Patience." Normally unforgiving, Tracy now finds Mike intellectually intriguing and becomes interested in him, especially when she discovers that he's a fiction writer who works for Spy Magazine only to pay the bills:

Tracy: When you can do a thing like that book, how can you possibly do anything else?
Mike: Well, you may not believe this, but there are people in this world that must earn their living.
Tracy: Of course, but people buy books, don't they?
Mike: Not as long as there's a library around. You know, that book of mine represents two solid years' work. And it netted Connor something under six hundred dollars.
Tracy: But that shouldn't be!...What about your Miss Imbrie?
Mike: Well, Miss Imbrie is in somewhat the same fix. She's a born painter, and might be a very important one. But Miss Imbrie must eat. And she also prefers a roof over her head to being constantly out in the rain and snow.
Tracy: Food and a roof.

[The next major sequence includes three pool-side encounters between Tracy and the three gentlemen in her life: Mike, Dexter, and George.]

They return to the Lord's estate and - at the swimming pool, Mike gazes at the extravagant structure that is blithely taken for granted by the upper-crust Tracy:

Mike: Hey, you've really got something here.
Tracy: Where?

As Tracy and Mike change into swimming costumes in adjoining dressing rooms, she earnestly begins to explain an idea to him about how she could support his work:

I have the most wonderful little house in Unionville. It's up on a hill with a view that would knock you silly. I'm never there except in the hunting season, and not much then, and I'd be so happy to know that it was of some real use to someone....There's a brook and a small lake, no size really, and a patch of woods, and in any kind of weather, it's the most wonderful --- Well anyhow, I'm, I'm so delighted that I can offer it to you.

For a few moments, they aren't able to consider Tracy's idea any further, because they hear Dexter approaching with his characteristic whistle. Tracy prefers not to be left alone with Dexter and asks if Mike doesn't mind standing by. Tracy promises that she won't pester Mike with visits to the house in Unionville: "And don't think I'd come trooping in every minute because I wouldn't. I'd-I'd never come except when expressly asked to." Mike protests a little untactfully: "Well, you see the idea of artists depending upon a patron Lady Bountiful has more or less gone out." Tracy is plainly hurt by his rejection: "Oh! I see. That wasn't especially kind of you, Mr. Connor. I'm sorry to have seemed patronizing."

Dexter intrudes and joins them in the poolside dressing area, carrying an article wrapped in white tissue. After explaining his change in drink preferences, he goads Connor:

Dexter: Orange juice, certainly.
Tracy: Don't tell me you've forsaken your beloved whiskey and whiskeys.
Dexter: No, no, no, no. I've just changed their color, that's all. I'm going for the pale pastel shades now. They're more becoming to me. How about you, Mr. Connor? You drink, don't you? Alcohol, I mean.
Mike: Oh, a little.
Dexter: A little, 'little.' And you a writer? I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. You know one time, I think I secretly wanted to be a writer.

Tracy is irritated by Dexter and his flippant attitude, and asks him to leave:

Tracy: Dexter, would you mind doing something for me?...Get the heck out of here.
Dexter: Oh my dear, Red. I couldn't do that. It wouldn't be fair to you. You need me too much.
Tracy: Would you mind telling me just what it is you're hanging around for? (Mike begins to walk away) Oh no, no, no. Please don't go, Mr. Connor.
Dexter (adding): 'Oh no, no, no. Please don't go Mr. Connor.' As a writer, this ought to be right up your street.
Tracy: Don't miss a word.

As Connor watches and listens to most of their conversation, the divorced couple assault each other with witty insults, recriminations, serious reproaches, and verbal rejoinders about each other's flaws, imperfections and weaknesses and the reasons for their failed marriage. Tracy's judgemental intolerance and perfectionism, her impossibly high ideals, her wishes to remain frigidly chaste and virginal as a spoilt "goddess", and her lack of understanding of his drinking led Dexter to drink even more:

Dexter: I never saw you looking better, Red. You're getting that fine, tawny look.
Tracy: Oh, we're going to talk about me, are we? Goodie.
Dexter: It's astonishing what money can do for people, don't you agree, Mr. Connor? Not too much, you know - just more than enough. Now take Tracy for example. (There's) never a blow that hasn't been softened for her. Never a blow that won't be softened. As a matter of fact, she's even changed her shape - she was a dumpy little thing at one time.
Tracy: Only as it happens, I'm not interested in myself, for the moment.
Dexter: Not interested in yourself! You're fascinated, Red. You're far and away your favorite person in the world.
Tracy: Dexter, in case you don't know it -
Dexter: Of course, Mr. Connor, she's a girl who's generous to a fault.
Tracy: To a fault, Mr. Connor.
Dexter: Except to other people's faults. For instance, she never had any understanding of my deep and gorgeous thirst.
Tracy: That was your problem.
Dexter: Granted. But you took on that problem with me when you took me, Red. You were no help-mate there. You were a scold.
Tracy: It was disgusting. It made you so unattractive.
Dexter: A weakness, sure, and strength is her religion, Mr. Connor. She finds human imperfection unforgiveable. And when I gradually discovered that my relationship to her was supposed to be not that of a loving husband and a good companion, but - (He turns away from her) Oh, never mind.
Tracy: Say it.
Dexter: But that of a kind of high priest to a virgin goddess, then my drinks grew deeper and more frequent, that's all. (Mike slides off his chair and leaves them.)
Tracy: I never considered you as that, nor myself.
Dexter: You did without knowing it. Oh, and the night that you got drunk on champagne and climbed out on the roof and stood there, NAKED, with your arms out to the moon, wailing like a banshee - (Dexter laughs at the thought.)
Tracy: I told you I never had the slightest recollection of doing any such thing.
Dexter: I know. You drew a blank. You wanted to. Mr. Connor, what would you... (He turns and notices Mike has gone) Oh.
Tracy: A nice story for spies, incidentally.
Dexter: Too bad we can't supply photographs of you on the roof.

Tracy wishes to dismiss all memories of the incident on the roof, calling it "silly, childish." But Dexter believes it is "enormously important and most revealing." He cannot understand what convinced Tracy to decide to marry Kittredge, a man so obviously beneath her. Dexter thinks it can't be love, as Tracy insists it is. Kittredge may be a self-made man, but he is still not the man for her - he is only an uninteresting, stuffed-shirt bore:

Dexter: How in the world could you even think of it?
Tracy: Because he is everything you're not. He's been poor. He's had to work and he's had to fight for everything. And I love him, as I never even began to love you.
Dexter: Maybe so, but I doubt it. I think he's just a swing from me. But it's too violent a swing. Kittredge is no great tower of strength, you know, Tracy. He's just a tower.
Tracy: You hardly know him.
Dexter: To hardly know him is to know him well. And perhaps it offends my vanity to have anyone who is even remotely my wife re-marry so obviously beneath her.
Tracy: How dare you! Any of you in this day and age use such an idiotic...
Dexter: I'm talking about the difference in mind and spirit...Kittredge is not for you.
Tracy: You bet he's for me. He's a great man and a good man. Already, he's of national importance.
Dexter: You sound like SPY Magazine talking. (He warns.) But whatever he is, toots, you'll have to stick. He'll give you no out as I did.
Tracy: I won't require one.
Dexter: I suppose you'd still be attractive to any man of spirit, though. There's something engaging about it, this goddess business. There's something more challenging to the male than the, uh, more obvious charms.
Tracy: Really?
Dexter: Really. We're very vain, you know - 'This citadel can and shall be taken, and I'm the boy to do it.'

And then Dexter contemptuously chides Tracy as a cool, invulnerable, perfect goddess, who has no ability to understand weaknesses in others. Secure in her sense of "inner divinity" and aloof superiority as a "Married Maiden," she cannot tolerate weakness. Ultimately, this character flaw makes her less attractive as a human being and as a woman:

Tracy: You seem quite contemptuous of me all of a sudden.
Dexter: No, Red, not of you, never of you. Red, you could be the finest woman on this earth. I'm contemptuous of something inside of you you either can't help, or make no attempt to; your so-called 'strength' - your prejudice against weakness - your blank intolerance.
Tracy: Is that all?
Dexter: That's the gist of it; because you'll never be a first-class human being or a first-class woman, until you've learned to have some regard for human frailty. It's a pity your own foot can't slip a little sometime - but your sense of inner divinity wouldn't allow that. This goddess must and shall remain intact. There are more of you than people realize - a special class of the American Female. The Married Maidens.
Tracy: So help me, Dexter, if you say another word, I'll...
Dexter: I'm through, Red. For the moment, I've had my say.

As Dexter is leaving, he calls attention to the tissue-wrapped article that he brought - it is a wedding present. While Tracy dives into the pool and swims over to the pool's edge, George (who has appeared) unwraps Dexter's bundle - a model of the True Love - "a boat he designed and built practically" for their honeymoon cruise. As Tracy floats it in the swimming pool next to her, she describes how they sailed it down and back the coast of Maine the summer they were married. Tracy's memories are aroused about the sailboat:

My, she was yar...It means, uh...easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, right. Everything a boat should be, until she develops dry rot.

When Tracy climbs out of the pool, George promises Tracy a much better marriage for her than the one Dexter gave her - he visualizes her in an ivory tower: "I'm going to build you an ivory tower with my own two hands." She moves out of the frame to the right, as he proclaims his hopes about their marriage ("something straight, sound, and fine") - as opposed to what Dexter may have represented [a cut-away shows the sailboat floating away on the pool's surface]. She wonders if he is bothered that she had once belonged to Dexter - that he was her "lord and master." George denies the thought, choosing not to believe that Dexter ever possessed or loved her. Instead, he proposes worshipping her in an "ivory tower" as a "statue" or "distant queen" with his "straight, sound and fine" approach, because she represents everything he aspires to:

George: You know, we're gonna represent something, Tracy, you and I in our home, something straight, sound, and fine. Then perhaps your friend Mr. Haven will be somewhat less condescending.
Tracy: George, you, you don't really mind him, do you? I mean, the fact of him...I mean...that he ever was my lord and master. That we ever were...
George: I don't believe he ever was, Tracy, not really. I don't believe that anyone ever was - or ever will be. That's the wonderful thing about you, Tracy.
Tracy (startled): What? How?
George: Well, you're like some marvelous, distant, well, queen, I guess. You're so cool and fine and - and always so much your own. There's a kind of beautiful purity about you, Tracy, like, like a statue...
Tracy: George -
George: Oh, it's grand, Tracy. It's what everybody feels about you. It's what I first worshipped you for from afar.
Tracy: George, listen -
George: First, now, and always! Only from a little nearer now, eh, darling!
Tracy: I-I don't want to be worshipped. I want to be loved!
George: Well, you're that too, Tracy. Oh, you're that all right.
Tracy: I mean really loved.
George: But that goes without saying, Tracy.
Tracy: No. No, now it's you who doesn't see what I mean. I-

The scene has imperceptibly changed to a dreamlike, moon-lit night, as Tracy, now alone, slowly strolls back to the pool's edge and pauses where the True Love floats - the sound of violins rises on the soundtrack. After a dissolve, Tracy ambles across the lawn to the outdoor porch of the house. Her father speaks about the "unamusing..., stupid undignified" spectacle of the charade being perpetrated upon the magazine's staff - and is convinced that the least they can do is inform Mr. Connor and Miss Imbrie ("the camera lady") that the family is aware of their real purpose in being there. Rather than having Tracy tell them, Mr. Lord (as the "titular head of the family") proposes that it would be better if the information came from him.

Her father remarks how Tracy has no heart or ability to understand his present major weakness: mild philandering with a pretty young dancer. He places part of the blame for his philandering (and separation or divorce from his own wife) on his own unaffectionate, critical daughter who is "made of bronze." Like Dexter did earlier, Mr. Lord accuses his priggish, intolerant, but beautiful daughter of similar "unattractive" qualities. He criticizes her as a "perennial spinster" with an inability to give warm, uncritical affection or have an understanding heart:

Tracy (snaps): Of course, inasmuch as you let us in for it in the first place.
Mr. Lord: Oh, do keep that note out of your voice, Tracy. It's very unattractive.
Tracy: Oh? How does your dancer friend talk? Or does she purr?
Margaret: Tracy!
Mr. Lord: Oh, it's quite all right, Margaret.
Tracy: Sweet and low, I suppose. Dulcet, very lady-like. You've got a heck of a nerve to come back here in your best-head-of-the-family manner and make stands and strike attitudes and criticize my fiancee and give orders and mess things up generally...
Margaret: Stop it instantly!
Tracy: I can't help it. It's sickening. As if he'd done nothing at all!
Mr. Lord: Which happens to be the truth.
Margaret: Anyway, it's not your affair, Tracy, if it concerns anyone. Well actually, I don't know whom it concerns except your father.
Mr. Lord: That's very wise of you, Margaret. What most wives fail to realize is that their husband's philandering has nothing whatever to do with them.
Tracy: Oh? Then, what has it to do with?
Mr. Lord: A reluctance to grow old, I think. I suppose the best mainstay a man can have as he gets along in years is a daughter - the right kind of daughter.
Tracy: How sweet!
Mr. Lord: No, no. I'm talking seriously about something I've thought over thoroughly. I've had to. I think a devoted young girl gives a man the illusion that youth is still his.
Tracy: Very important, I suppose.
Mr. Lord: Oh, very, very. Because without her, he might be inclined to go out in search of his youth. And that's just as important to him as it is to any woman. But with a girl of his own full of warmth for him, full of foolish, unquestioning, uncritical affection -
Tracy: None of which I've got -
Mr. Lord: None. You have a good mind, a pretty face, a disciplined body that does what you tell it to. You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman except the one essential - an understanding heart. And without that, you might just as well be made of bronze.
Tracy (deeply hurt): That's an awful thing to say to anyone.
Mr. Lord: Yes, it is indeed.
Tracy: So, I'm to blame for Tina Mara, am I?
Mr. Lord: To a certain extent, I expect you are.
Tracy: You coward.
Mr. Lord: No. But better that than a prig or a perennial spinster, however many marriages.
Mrs. Lord: Seth, that's too much.
Mr. Lord: I'm afraid it's not enough, Margaret. I'm afraid nothing is.
Tracy: What, what did you say I was?
Mr. Lord: Do you want me to repeat it?
Tracy: 'A prig and a...' You mean, you think I think I'm some kind of a goddess or something?
Mr. Lord: If your ego wants it that way, yes. Also, you've been talking like a jealous woman.
Tracy: 'A...' What's the matter with everyone all at once, anyhow?

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