The Philadelphia Story Blu-ray Review
Hepburn's Comeback Story
Criterion follow up their earlier release of Katherine Hepburn's Best Actress Oscar-winning Woman of the Year with her comeback hit The Philadelphia Story, which boasts a glorious new 4K remaster.In retrospect, the late Katherine Hepburn is revered as one of the greatest actresses of all time, having earned a record-breaking four Best Actress Academy Awards over her diverse career. At the time, however, it wasn't so easy for the famously outspoken and independent woman, who, after a young divorce, refused to remarry despite numerous suitors including pioneer Howard Hughes (their relationship is fundamental to Scorsese's underrated biopic, The Aviator, and is one Cate Blanchett's best performances, playing Hepburn). During a lull in her career, Hepburn took the lead in a Broadway play, The Philadelphia Story, tailored to suit her independent streak. Hughes saw this as her way back into Hollywood, buying the rights so she could do a film adaptation, and Hepburn was soon starring opposite both Cary Grant and James Stewart in what would be a massive comeback hit.The story has the imminent wedding of Hepburn's fierce socialite disrupted by her ex-husband (Cary Grant) and a tabloid reporter he enlists to disrupt the proceedings (James Stewart), allowing the three stars to go to war with razor-sharp verbal sparring, but also making room for a certain degree of self-depreciation in respect of Hepburn as her character is pulled down to size across the course of the screwball romantic comedy, winning the hearts of the audiences she had previously lost. Despite ceding top billing to her heavyweight co-stars, there's no doubt this is Hepburn's baby, subtly bringing so much of herself to the screen as her outspoken, independent heroine shows cracks and vulnerability as her cleverly-constructed protective bubble of a world comes crashing down around her. She may have gone on to win Awards for increasingly diverse output, but this marked her closest-to-the-heart comeback.
Picture QualityThe Philadelphia Story earns itself a 4K digital restoration, which comes to us courtesy of The Criterion Collection on Region B-locked UK Blu-ray (and simultaneous Region A-locked US Blu-ray) complete with an impressive 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 fullscreen.
The Philadelphia Story earns itself a 4K restoration and the new Blu-ray looks stunning
For a film that recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary, it looks superb, with a nice degree of detail afforded to the classic black and white photography, evident on clothing - suit stripes, hair, and set flourishes; even the carpets come alive. It's easily the best shape this film has ever been in. Devoid of any defects, it's been cleaned up lovingly, with a certain degree of softness consistent with a production of that era, but, conversely, a striking amount of texture to the wider shots, with impressive contrast differentiating the greyscale tones skilfully. Black levels are strong, and it's a gorgeous presentation.
Sound QualityA strong audio accompaniment in the original mono
The accompanying uncompressed Linear PCM 1.0 monoaural soundtrack is also very good, considering the vintage, with refined presentation of all of the key elements. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, with no tinny shrill edge to the voices, and - in usual, impressive, Criterion style - no pops, crackle or hiss. It's been cleaned up admirably, affording some respectable range to the atmospherics - which allow for a decent enough ambiance but are admittedly limited by the material which is essentially a restricted-setting stage play (it was practically shot entirely in one house). The score is never distorted either, and overall it's a strong accompaniment.
ExtrasCriterion deliver an unsurprisingly excellent package headlined by the 2005 Audio Commentary from film scholar Jeanine Basinger, with a New Documentary, In Search of Tracy Lord; looking at the lead character in both the play and the film; and a New Featurette looking at Katherine Hepburn's work to get the film made, as well as three rare 70s interviews from Hepburn in episodes of The Dick Cavett Show. There's also the entire Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film from 1943, complete with an introduction from filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille. The package is rounded off by a look at the restoration work done here, the film's Trailer, and one of Criterion's usual booklets.
Blu-ray VerdictCriterion deliver an unsurprisingly excellent package in this new Blu-ray release
The Philadelphia Story comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion, offering up an excellent 4K restoration, strong audio and a decent selection of extra features. Fans should celebrate the release by picking it up.
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