Friday, 14 September 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Adam's Rib (1949)

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are iconic when it comes to famous cinematic duos. And Adam's Rib is a perfect film to watch if you ever forget that. It has them on great form, and features some delightful supporting turns around them.

The story starts with a shooting. Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) has had enough of her philandering husband, Warren (Tom Ewell), and sees red when she interrupts his latest liaison with Beryl Caighn (Jean Hagen, who so many should recognise from Singin' In The Rain). The court case is going to be an interesting one, and Spencer Tracy finds himself heading up the prosecution. Spurred on by the thought of how differently things might play out if the accused was a male, Katharine Hepburn heads up the defence. This causes some tension at home, because Tracy and Hepburn are also married to one another.

Having worked together on a total of nine movies, Adam's Rib can be viewed as the quintessential Tracy and Hepburn movie. The two have a difficult relationship, strained to breaking point by their differences of opinion, but there's obvious affection for one another in almost every scene. The script, by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, may not be as full of zingers as some other films from this era of Hollywood but it has a lot of laughs throughout, elevated by the cast. It is, however, more interesting than many other comedies you could give your time to, making a number of salient and interesting points about gender bias that, sadly, still exist today.

Director George Cukor doesn't do anything wrong. He simply gets the camera in the best position to showcase Tracy and Hepburn doing their thing, which is all that is required, and he works with the script to take the central couple on a journey that will push them towards a couple of real low points without viewers every really worrying that everything won't be sorted by the time we get to the end credits. Tonally, things get dark (especially in a scene that has someone else being threatened with a gun in the third act) but there's always a reprieve coming along to make up for those moments.

It feels redundant to spend more time praising the leads, they've been two favourite actors of mine for many years and watching them work together onscreen is always a delight. Holliday is wonderful as the wife who has been pushed beyond breaking point, Ewell is amusingly arrogant as the bad husband who doesn't think he's done too much wrong, and Hagen steals a scene or two, making me wish that she was in it a bit more. David Wayne is also enjoyable, playing a friend and neighbour who obviously has great affection for Hepburn.

Fans of the two main stars of this film will probably have already seen this. And they'll already know that it's a very enjoyable film to revisit at any time. Newcomers? Well, this is as good a place to start as any. You get some fun dialogue, memorable characters, and two people going through a range of emotions while making it all look completely effortless.


Here's a set containing the movie.
Americans can get it here.

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