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12 July 2013

Dynamic Duos in Classic Film: Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant

This post is written in conjunction with the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen and the Classic Movie Hub. This article and many like it can be found on

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HOLIDAY (1938)

Katharine Hepburn had the privilege of playing with some of the best leading men of her day, from Humphrey Bogart to John Wayne. She is perhaps best known for the nine films she made between 1942 and 1967 with her long-term lover Spencer Tracy. Hepburn also worked with director and friend George Cukor on a remarkable ten movies, starting with her Hollywood début picture, A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT (1932), until THE CORN IS GREEN (1979) just a couple years before his death.

These two Hepburn teamings may be the most well-known, but we must not forget that Hepburn made four films with sex-pot Cary Grant before she ever met Tracy, and three of these four movies were directed by Cukor.

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"[Grant] was fatter, and it this point his boiling energy was at its peak. We would laugh from morning to night." (Hepburn, Me)

"[Grant] is personality functioning." (Hepburn)

SS cary grant"[Hepburn] was this slip of a woman and I never liked skinny women. But she had this thing, this air you might call it, the most totally magnetic women I'd ever seen, and probably ever seen since. You had to look at her, you had to listen to her, there was no escaping her." (Cary Grant)
Of the four movies Hepburn and Grant made together, two have become timeless classics: BRINGING UP BABY (1938) and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940). The first film they made together was SYLVIA SCARLETT (1935). Although the picture failed at the time, it has become something of a cult classic, especially among the homosexual community, due to its edgy/comedic subject matter. HOLIDAY (1938) is generally acknowledged as one of Katharine Hepburn most underrated masterpieces. Like BRINGING UP BABY and PHILADELPHIA STORY, it has a brilliantly funny script, with more depth than the two more popular pictures.

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SYLVIA SCARLETT (1935) [comedy, drama, romance, cult classic]
Directed by: George Cukor
Starring: Cary Grant, Brian Aherne, Edmund Gwenn
Writers: Compton MacKenzie (novel), Gladys Unger, John Collier, Mortimer Offner
Plot: When her father runs into some trouble with the law, Sylvia dresses like a boy so she can accompany him out of the country. They team up with a couple other misfits and travel as a small acting troupe. Confusion ensues when Sylvia falls in love with a young man who still thinks she's a boy. The movie was supposed to be a comedy, but nobody laughed so it completely tanked at the box office. It's a silly movie that doesn't really make much sense, but it has it's humorous bits. Hearing Cary Grant use his natural-born cockney accent makes the whole movie worth renting at least once! (Read my post about SYLVIA SCARLETT to learn more)
Margaret’s rating: 

BUB i can take care of myself
BRINGING UP BABY (1938) [screwball comedy, romance]
Directed by: Howard Hawks
Starring: Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles
Writers: Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde
Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
Plot: Professor David Huxley wants to solicit one million dollars for his work at the museum, but when he meets zany socialite Susan Vance, his plans get turned upside down. She's fallen head over heals in love with him and will do anything to stay with him, even if that includes chasing her aunt's pet leopard all over the Connecticut countryside. I could watch this movie ten million times (and I probably have) and still laugh just as hard as I did the first time. (Read more)
Margaret’s rating: 10/10 (personal favorite)

Holiday gif
HOLIDAY (1938)
HOLIDAY (1938) [comedy, romance]
Directed by: George Cukor
Starring: Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton, Jean Dixon
Writers: Philip Barry (play), Donald Ogden Stewart, Sidney Buchman
Studio: Columbia
Plot: Julia and Johnny met each other two weeks ago on vacation, fell in love and are now engaged to be married. But when he goes to meet her family, he learns a couple of things: 1.) she's very rich - yay! 2.) she might not appreciate his dreams as much as he does - boo! 3.) she has a great sister who might just be a kindred spirit - yay? This screenplay deals with some heavy topics, like social class and economic status, while still being entertaining, witty, and lots of fun. It's a thoughtful play with both humor and heart. One of my favorites. (Read more)
Margaret's rating: 9/10
*nominated for Academy Award for best art direction

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THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) [comedy, romance]
Directed by: George Cukor
Starring: Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Ruth Hussey, Roland Young, Virginia Weidler
Writers: Philip Barry (play), Donald Ogden Stewart
Studio: MGM
Plot: Tracy is about to marry her salt-of-the-earth fiance, but her ex-husband (Grant) shows up unexpectedly with a couple reporters (Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey) and things start to shake up. This witty Phillip Barry was written for Hepburn and has been a smash since it first appeared on Broadway in 1939. It has become part of the canon of must-see classic films. I have never shown this to a group of friends with a unanimous approval. (Read more)
Margaret’s rating: 10/10
*won Academy Award for best actor (Jimmy Stewart), best screenplay; nominated for best leading actress, best supporting actress (Ruth Hussey), best director, best picture

PS radio clowningFinal Analysis

The four films Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn made together are among my very favorite classic movies. The two actors had an obvious chemistry that came across in all their movies. They seem to have had such a casual comfort level with each other that benefited their work and their friendship. It would have been nice to see more movies co-starring this dynamic duo. Thank you for reading my post. Make sure you check out the other entries for the Dynamic Duo Blogathon on Once Upon a Screen and the Classic Movie Hub!
(above) Hepburn and Grant clown around during a radio broadcast of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)


  1. Indeed a dynamic team. Love that phrase of yours 'casual comfort level' !

  2. Margaret, what a great posting - and a great idea to focus on a different Hepburn partnership rather than her work with Cukor and Tracy. She and Grant make a great team! I've just enjoyed reading all four of your full pieces on these films, which give a lot of food for thought and background information.

    My own favourite out of these four is 'The Philadelphia Story', but I do fume over the way Hepburn's character is blamed for everything from her husband's alcoholism to her father's affair, so was very interested to see your take on this and your argument that James Stewart's character is "tamed" as much as Hepburn's. I also like 'Holiday' a lot, and think Lew Ayres gives a fine performance as the brother - I feel I should love 'Bringing Up Baby' more than I do, as fan of Hawks and both stars, but maybe I was in the wrong mood for it when I saw it, as I found it too frantic. I also really wanted to like 'Sylvia Scarlett' but just didn't find it funny, although all the play with gender is very interesting and I also really liked Brian Aherne in it.

    1. Sylvia Scarlett is certainly odd, but it's fun seeing Hepburn as a boy and Grant as a cockney. Thanks for reading!

  3. It truly would have been a treat to see even more films from this dynamic duo. I'd almost forgotten about "Sylvia Scarlet", must catch up with it one of these days for a reassessment.

  4. You know, it really is a shame that they made only 4 movies together. They were terrific on screen! I think my fave of these movies is Holiday, although Bringing Up Baby has some side-splitting scenes. Here`s to Cary and Katherine! (clink)

  5. Great post! SYLVIA SCARLETT is fascinating - more people ought to see that one, and the same goes for HOLIDAY.

    1. Thanks so much, Jennifer! I couldn't agree more.

  6. LOVE them!!! I'm still saving Sylvia Scarlett for a special day, though I know it's not as good as the others. Seeing that gif of a shirtless Grant is making it hard to stay away from it, though...!

  7. They really had a wonderful chemistry! I would give 6 to Sylvia Scarlett too, because it's not defined if this is a comedy or a drama. It has both, and the screwball elements were not yet very clear. But Kate and Cary make it worth watching.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  8. Just watched Holiday...loved it. Ive seen a lot of negativity on Bringing up That movie is hilarious. I could watch it again right now.

  9. This was great. This summer was the summer of Cary Grant, in which he would be playing opposite himself on different channels. wonderful. I had been wondering if Kate and Cary were friends -- you more than answered the question. Smiles!

  10. Two of cinemas greats. Even though this was the thirties with dialog tied to the time,
    if this film were made today the magic of Hepburn and Grant would pour onto you like
    warm syrup. I loved the film. It felt good to see her disrupted and in her confusion bring her sense of stability grasp an answer to her inevitable result. Great movie.

  11. > "his natural-born cockney accent"!

    Natural born cockney accent my elbow! Cary was a Bristolian!

  12. I've seen all four of these films multiple times because Grant & Katherine Hepburn are two of my favorite actors. I had only heard of Sylvia Scarlett and Holiday within the past few years but Holiday immediately become one of my favorite films.

  13. I have always wondered why Grant and Hepburn did not make another film together after The Philadelphia Story. Granted WWII changed everyone's destiny. Grant went on to make a string of hapless films until he found himself again the late 50's. Hepburn seemed to have traded Grant for Spencer Tracy. Not that this was a bad choice, but Katherine was never able to show her comedic talents and athletic prowess that she had with Cary Grant.


Can't wait to hear your thoughts!