Jump to content

Recommended Posts

It's hard to believe, but up until six months before "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was released (June 12, 1967 to be exact - see Loving v. Virginia), interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states. People automatically assume we're such an advanced species, but in reality, we're one small step removed from being cavemen (of course, with the nail bombs and automatic guns people are killing each other with these days, we put cavemen to shame - all they had at their disposal were sticks and stones). Putting it bluntly: We, as a species, suck.

Back to the movies. I had watched "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" a few years ago, but I'm unsatisfied at how well (or rather, how poorly) I remember it, so I decided to watch it again - I remember at the time thinking how utterly, completely *wrong* it was for Katherine Hepburn to have won the Best Actress Academy Award over Dame Edith Evans, who deserved a unanimous vote that year: Anyone who *didn't* vote for Evans was either incompetent, dishonest, or both.

Back to the movies again. I hate the fact that "message movies" (and this is a message movie) need to be made - not only are they lazy and pompous, but they shouldn't be necessary; yet, they are, because we, as a species, suck. Worse, message movies aren't always correct (refer to "Reefer Madness"), turning the entire process into quite the little farce.

But here? Of course it was necessary. And I'm *so* glad the film took place in San Francisco - one of my favorite cities to see and to be in. The cinematography - especially in the 40th anniversary edition, available on Amazon as a $3.99 48-hour rental - is beautiful. Even something as simple as watching a taxi drive through the streets is a lovely sight to behold.

Spencer Tracy died 17 days after the film was completed. This was his ninth (and obviously final) screen pairing with Katherine Hepburn, and Hepburn was so devastated by the loss of Tracy, that she never once watched the movie - the two were romantically involved, secretly, for 26 years. Hepburn played art gallery owner Christina Drayton, the mother of Katherine Houghton (Joanna "Joey" Drayton) in the film, which was Houghton's Hollywood debut, and in real life, they were aunt and niece - I did not remember that at all until just now (as usual, I'm writing about the movie as I'm watching it, so expect some chronological progression and random comments in this post - it certainly will not be a well-conceived piece of writing, but if I discover something I think will interest you, you can be sure I'll mention it).

Spencer Tracy, for those of you who don't know, was the inspiration for the character Carl Fredricksen in the 2009 Pixar animated film, "Up," and his character in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," newspaper publisher Matt Drayton, is the "look" they were trying to achieve (successfully, I will add) when animating Carl - if you're looking to have a good cry, go rewatch "Up" and the famous "Carl and Ellie" love scene.

Sidney Poitier (Dr. John Prentice) was Hollywood's hottest commodity in 1967, starring in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "In the Heat of the Night" (both nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, with "In the Heat of the Night" winning), and also "To Sir, with Love" - not a bad year! I've sometimes looked at Poitier as Hollywood's version of Jackie Robinson - "the perfect Negro" to break into the good ol' boys' club of Hollywood. His appearance, demeanor, and countenance all make him look like an almost-perfect person - much more easily acceptable by the white community than someone with a huge Afro, tie-dyed shirt, and jive accent. This aside, he is one of my very favorite actors from the 1960s, or any other era for that matter (does this mean the strategy worked?)

Putting all racial and "perfect man" aspects aside, what would possess a 37-year-old man - especially someone as successful as he is - to marry a 23-year-old girl who he just met ten days before? I know, the correct response is, "love," but my reaction, had I been Joey's parents, would have been, "We don't care that he's a negro; we care very much that you met just ten days ago - why don't you wait six months, and if you still want to get married then, you'll know you were right all along."

The brief dance scene between the meat deliveryman and Dorothy (Tillie's drop-dead gorgeous assistant, played by Barbara Randolph) was eye-rollingly ridiculous, especially because there was no music playing except as background music. Was this supposed to be some sort of comic relief? If so, it really wasn't needed, and it was incredibly silly in execution. Meh, it was probably some sort of symbolic representation that went over my head.

It's probably just coincidence, but there's a disturbing similarity between Katherine Houghton's role as Joey, and Jane Fonda's role as Corie Bratter in "Barefoot in the Park" - both of them play "spirited dimwits," who ignore the consequences of reality, and try to get by on their "oh-so-cute personality" (and, consciously or not, their good looks). I don't like it - it makes women look stupid. Granted, Fonda's role is twice as blatant, but I see some of the same traits in Houghton here. Why is it that the man in both movies is perceived as the "stable stuffed-shirt" (when, in fact, the men engaged in behavior that was equally reckless and foolhardy)? Well, it has been almost fifty years, and I guess I'm looking at this through 2016 lenses - maybe it's just me, but give me a quietly confident woman any day of the week (Sally Field in "Places in the Heart" just popped into mind - even though she was uneducated, she had a dogged determination about her that made her much more respectable, and quite frankly, "equal," in my eyes - she quietly set out to prove everybody wrong, and she did).

Katherine Hepburn's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" line addressed to Spencer Tracy was bordering on being laugh-out-loud funny.

I guess it's obvious that Spencer Tracy ordering, then rejecting, then deciding he likes, the boysenberry sherbert, was symbolic of the potential of his relationship with Dr. Prentice; what I didn't understand is the significance of him backing into the car immediately afterwards (would someone like to take a stab at explaining this to me?) And to think *that* damage could be fixed for only "thirty or forty bucks?" Even in 1967? Are you kidding me? My, how times have changed. That's a thousand-dollar accident today, minimum.

Interleaved between those two scenes, Tillie (the maid played by Isabel Sanford - yes, Louise from "The Jeffersons!") had a scene-stealing moment when she told off Dr. Prentice - you know, I was certain I'd seen Tillie somewhere before, but I just didn't quite place her as "Weezy," even though it was so darned obvious after I found it out - of *course* she's Weezy!) It became even more obvious during this scene when she raised her voice - there was that distinct, "Louise Jefferson" sound in it. How dim of me not to recognize this.

Okay, I just this minute finished watching, the film ending with a ten-minute speech by Spencer Tracy. I'm telling myself, over-and-over again, "It's fifty years old, it's fifty years old, it's fifty years old," because that speech felt so damned scripted, and all that mattered is what the white father accepted; it didn't seem to matter what the black father thought. I'm turning a blind eye to this film, and saying that it was probably "necessary," but I'm not going to sit here and say it isn't dated, or that I particularly enjoyed it. And regardless of color, if my child told me he was getting married after knowing someone - anyone - for ten days, and sought my approval? I'd say, "Do whatever you want - and be prepared to learn from your mistakes for round two."

The acting was excellent, if overdone in parts, but it was, for the most part, a very strong cast.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A very strong cast, yes, with the glaring exception of Katharine Houghton. She couldn't act her way out of a paper bag (any wonder why you never saw her again?) and there was absolutely no chemistry between her and Poitier. Even back when I first saw it in the 1960s, I thought this movie was patronizing.

Watching Hepburn and Tracey together in a film for the last time, however, was a hoot. Those two had chemistry.

Yes, it was a child of its times. I'm glad those times have changed and nobody would make a movie like this again. Or, at least, I hope not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...