Director: George Stevens
Writer: Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin
Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg
by Jon Cvack
This was the first of nine films starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, of which I think I’ve seen about half, with Desk Set (1957) being the most recent (and making a lot more sense when I think of how great their chemistry was).
Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn) is a successful columnist and concerned about current affairs, feminism, and world politics, living in a lush New York penthouse. Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy) is a sports columnist, who’s use to watching the ball games with a roomful of his white male colleagues, all smoking cigars, chatting up women and sports, and drinking booze, if they care to. When Tess writes up an editorial disparaging baseball, Sam scolds her in the middle of the office, forcing management to have to interject, leading Sam to invite her to a ballgame where she learns about the sport. Recently getting into baseball much to the annoyance of my girlfriend who pretty much despises the game, I had particular affinity for where the story goes.
Tess and Sam look past their differences, fall in love and get married in record time, and the two binary personalities are forced to adjust to domestic life. Sam is what some might call an old fashioned type of guy, though it’s getting to the point where the phrase no longer reflects the reality. While Tess had enjoyed her life as an intellectual celebrity, Sam now wants her abandon all that and become the traditional domesticated wife who would clean the house, cook his meals, and raise their child. Tess has zero interest in the prospect, going on to accept her Woman of the Year Prize, opting to adopt a Greek orphan rather than get pregnant, all to Sam's vehement disagreement; taking her to the utter brink of leaving him.
For a film that was released in 1942, you can’t help admiring its celebration of feminism, with many of its characters likely inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt or her ideas. It’s no wonder that Criterion would provide the release with a pristine BluRay edition. The film is an important document not just for including radical ideas in mainstream texts (let alone for a film starring two A-list celebrities), but also for demonstrating that the same ideas we're debating today existed 75 years ago. It shows that the fight for equality and a celebration of a woman for their leadership and mind has been going on for decades. It’s a film like this that shows you how much has been accomplished and how effective the fight can be. In the final scene, Tess even shows her humanity by willing to find a compromise between her ambition and family, attempting and failing to cook a breakfast, showing that adjustments aren’t made through superficial domesticity, but by appreciating and loving someone else through other means; such as appreciating the details of a ball game, or an enlightening conversation, or changing the world for the better.
BELOW: I'm not a huge Katharine Hepburn, but she's got some solid comedy chops in this one
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