Two attorneys, a husband and a wife. He is a regular guy and she is an independent modern woman, especially for 1949. They take on opposing sides of a case of attempted murder when a woman tries to shot her philandering husband and his girlfriend. The is the premise of Adam’s Rib, one of the best of the Tracy-Hepburn films.
Directed by George Cukor, Adam’s Rib was written by husband and wife team Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. The plot revolves around Adam and Amanda Bonner, a married couple who unwittingly take on the same case. Doris Attinger, wonderfully played by Judy Holliday fires a gun at her husband (Tom Ewell) when she catches him with another woman. Adam, the prosecuting attorney sees it as a straight forward case of attempted murder and Amanda sees it as a way to advance woman’s rights. (keep in mind this is 1949, there were not that many woman’s rights). Their opposing arguments spill over from the courtroom into the bedroom and result in some pretty funny scenes. It is full of all the wit and barbs you would expect in a hilarious battle of the sexes.
Woman of the Year 1942
Tracy and Hepburn first appear together in George Stevens’ Woman of the Year. It is part of Hollywood legend that when they were first introduced by Joseph Mankiewicz, Katharine a tall woman anyway) was wearing high heels, said: “I’m afraid I’m too tall for you, Mr. Tracy.” Mankiewicz replied, “Don’t worry, he’ll soon cut you down to size.” That is an indication how their relationship would be.
In Woman of the Year, Tracy and Hepburn play rival journalists Tess Harding and Sam Craig. They work on the same newspaper and it is definitely NOT love at first sight, but they soon fall in love (on and off-screen). After the wedding, Tess’ busy lifestyle and feminist activities put a strain on the marriage. And when she is elected as “the woman of the year” Sam feels neglected and probably a bit jealous.
That is a pretty modern situation for a married couple in 1942. Watching them work through their problems is wonderfully hilarious. Especially when Tess tries to prove she can be a ‘real wife’ by making him breakfast. You’ve got to see it!
But what makes this and all their movies so special is the dynamic chemistry between Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Even though they seemed to be opposites, they were made for each other. I think the appeal of their movies was is to Katharine’s independent spirit which perfectly complements Spencer’s blue-collar demeanor and easy-going attitude. They made a total of 9 movies together and their final film was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, for which Hepburn won her second Academy Award for Best Actress.
In modern Chick Flicks, like The Ugly Truth there is a battle of the sexes where ultimately the man gets his way and the woman gets her man, but in the films of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, the battle of the sexes often ended in a draw (or at least a truce). They were a very modern couple for their time. She was the tough, independent woman and he knew just how to handle her: by giving her the freedom she needed to be herself and she gave him the respect he need to fell good about himself. I think it worked beautifully. Don’t you?