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Legend has it that Spencer Tracy said he would cut Katharine Hepburn
down to size when upon meeting her in heels for the first time on the
set of Woman of the Year.
I think that's what the authors of the screenplay Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr., had in mind in the script as well. As mismatched a pair if there ever were, he a down to earth sports columnist and she a world famous news reporter and commentator, fall in love.
As her celebrity is much wider known than his, Hepburn expects to have it all her own way. The rest of the film is concerned with their efforts to adjust to each other.
Katharine Hepburn's character is based on liberal radio commentator and reporter Dorothy Thompson. Not surprising that no one has mentioned that yet in all the reviews so far. The giveaway is Tracy first hearing her voice on the radio while in his favorite sports bar on Information Please where Thompson was a guest. Her career petered out after World War II, so she's not known to today's audience.
Writers Kanin and Lardner had as a model for the Tracy character Lardner's own father. Ring Lardner was one the celebrated sports writers of the first half of the 20th century, a great reporter and humorist. While Tracy is not as witty as Ring Lardner, he is definitely as down to earth.
My favorite scene is Spencer Tracy trying to feel comfortable at an international gathering at her place, looking even for people who speak English. Of course she's equally as uncomfortable at William Bendix's bar where Tracy likes to hang out.
Hepburn, comfortable in her celebrity, just sails through life, getting awards here and there. When she thinks of a Greek orphan kid she gets pressured into taking in as another award, that's when Tracy puts his foot down.
Based on some real celebrities, Tracy and Hepburn become those celebrities in the flesh. It's an awesome debut for what turned out to be a great screen team.
Look for fine performances by William Bendix, Fay Bainter, Minor Watson and Dan Tobin. Kanin and Lardner copped the film's only Oscar for an original screenplay. Hepburn was nominated for Best Actress, but lost to Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver.
If Woman of the Year were remade today, the producers might consider making the woman the sports reporter. Seeing Jeannie Zelasko covering the World Series this year, I'm sure it would work very well.
Right off I have to say that this is at once the funniest, most
romantic, most intelligent & most realistic depiction of a romantic
relationship I have ever seen.(For perspective, I'm a 60 year-old
multi-lingual film buff).
Whatever kind of film George Stevens tried, he did it to perfection. Witness Gunga Din, Swingtime & A Place in the Sun to mention just a few. It was like watching something by Hawks, Lubitch & Sturges all rolled into one.
Hepburn never appeared softer, more vulnerable, less mannered than in Woman of the Year. I fall in love with her all over again every time I watch it, which is surprisingly often, especially in the scene where she carries on about Oswald Spengler while plastered under the table.
Then there's Tracy, the most honest actor who ever lived. But not just that: there was his ability to delve seemingly without effort into an infinite bag of gestures & expressions & tones & just plain old-fashioned but highly manifest wisdom & come up with the most richly nuanced guy ever depicted on-screen. Tracy was a giant, a genius, the Rembrandt of film.
A delightful, dazzlingly perfect grown-up movie.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in their first
film together, his Sam Craig matched with her Tess Harding; his subtle,
underplaying acting style with her stylised, personality-driven performance.
It's an acting tour de force, to be sure--the two of them make the best of
(and often far surpass) a somewhat limited script and interesting but
stiffly played-out plot. In fact, their chemistry in this film is palpable.
When someone speaks of cinematic magic, of chemistry sparking off (if not
engulfing) the screen, *this*--Tracy, Hepburn, Tracy and Hepburn--is what
they are talking about, even back in the days of the Hays Code. It's all
mostly chaste kisses and long eye contact, often carried out in
semi-darkness, and yet the two main players establish a relationship more
sexual and believable than so many of the relationships portrayed in films
these days. (Take the tiny moment in the cab--not the drunk scene that
everyone loves, but that moment when he says, "I've got to get something off
my chest", and she mumbles, "I'm too heavy", and raises her head. When he
gently pulls it back to where you feel it would always belong, you know that
these actors are doing something incredible.)
This isn't to say that the film is without flaws. Far from it. The writing is clipped and most of the words on their own have little spark. (It takes Spencer Tracy's glowering eyes, or Katharine Hepburn's radiant smile, to add life to those words.) Even the relationship between Sam and Tess isn't set up in the most fluid of ways, leap-frogging from moment to moment, from scene to scene, without quite making the necessary connections--if you believe in Sam and Tess together (and I do), it's only because you can truly believe in Tracy and Hepburn together. The film occasionally feels like a play cobbled together from various scenes, until it hits its stride midway through the film (after Sam and Tess get married).
Script aside, the plot is interesting, and certainly quite radical for its time. However, the ending (a hilarious set-piece of comedy though it might be) leaves things largely unresolved. We have a wonderful, strong female character in Tess Harding--this is clear enough in the first half of the film. But her strength, her forceful personality and go-getting attitude, become her weakness in the second half, so much so that she becomes almost a caricature of the original Tess Harding. Some of the things she does (her 'humanitarian' wholesale adoption of Chris, for example; her rudeness and blithe ignorance of Sam's worth) are truly reprehensible, and the point the writers are making is clear--a female who tries too hard to be a male loses her feminity, and cannot ever really be fulfilled. In this sense, the gender politics, as other commenters have pointed out, is 'deplorable'.
And yet there is a grain of truth in it; if one *can* be brought to believe that Tess could really treat Chris and Sam in the way she does, one can't help but applaud Sam's decision to leave. The role reversal is almost complete--Sam himself comments on the fact that she 'makes love' to him to smooth over their quarrels. She charges on her own merry way without asking him about his life, his opinion, or anything that remotely matters to him. Their union was neither perfect, nor a marriage, as he justifiably charges.
The uneasy tension between the admirable and the deplorable Tess Hardings comes at the end: you most certainly get the impression that the film itself didn't quite know whether or not to affirm the Tess character. In fact, by all accounts (even Hepburn's own), the film originally ended with an unqualified affirmation of Tess's character--promising to be more involved in her husband's life, Tess is depicted at a baseball game, cheering alongside Sam, getting louder and louder and rising higher in her seat above him. It was both an affirmation of Tess the character, and a lingering question mark about the Harding-Craig reunion.
Test audiences didn't like it. (Apparently, it was the *women* who felt threatened by the character Hepburn portrayed on screen. She was too strong, too beautiful, too *everything* all at once.)
What transpired in the end, then, was a re-shot ending that muddied the moral of the film in suggesting that women could not really be fulfilled without their men. Sam wants her to be Tess Harding Craig; she wants to be Mrs. Craig; she wants to change; he thinks (and probably knows) she can't. The logical ending would have seen Tess, cast as she had been in the traditional masculine role, wooing Sam back, only to cast doubt over whether her atypical (for the time) strength as a female would unequivocally threaten the typical male figure as embodied in Tracy's character. The original ending would have better borne out the logic of the film--a valuable DVD extra if ever there was one. You can perhaps applaud the spirit of the film, without accepting the fact that it seems to let that spirit fade away in the end.
So what is there of worth in WOMAN OF THE YEAR, with its original ending gone, and its revolutionary potential muted by a slapstick scene in a kitchen with exploding waffles, too much coffee, and a woman who just can't seem to figure out how to separate eggs? Well, the answer is simple, and it's already been given. This is a movie to watch, and to watch *again*, because it is the first cinematic pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. For a couple of hours, you're allowed to watch these two great, mythical actors playing two people in love... while falling in love themselves. That is most certainly a rare privilege, if ever there was one.
Aside from the historical value of first teaming Spencer Tracy and Katharine
Hepburn (she had wanted Tracy in the previous year's THE PHILADELPHIA STORY,
but scheduling conflicts had prevented it), WOMAN OF THE YEAR holds its own
as a bright, smart 'Odd Couple' romantic comedy/drama, with witty dialog, a
rich, textured performance by the reliable Tracy, and Hepburn showing a
sexiness that she rarely gets to project on film.
The scenario is simple; Beautiful, brilliant Claire Booth Luce-type journalist(Hepburn) and practical, salt-of-the-earth sportswriter (Tracy) clash over whether athletic events should be suspended for the duration of the war (she finds them too frivolous in such serious times, he believes them essential for morale). After she makes some insensitive comments on the radio, he criticizes her in his sports column. Despite the paper-selling feud that results, their editor brings them together to make peace...and the pair, seeing one another in person for the first time, fall in love! Despite their busy schedules, he takes her to a ball game (which she loves) and she introduces him to her international friends (which he doesn't). Nonetheless, they marry, but he quickly discovers she is so busy 'saving the world' that she can't make time for him...and then she 'adopts' a war orphan, without consulting him, or considering how little time for 'motherhood' she's willing to give. He realizes a drastic step must be taken, as she is clueless about what being a 'wife' and 'mother' means...
While the domesticity scene concluding the film seems out of place (the story goes that MGM added it to make Tracy the 'winner' of the 'battle of the sexes', to a much more chauvinistic 40s audience), so many scenes ring true that the film goes beyond simple comedy/drama to a timeless statement about commitment, priorities, and accountability for one's actions. And despite the serious issues raised, it makes you laugh, too! Hepburn's reactions at the ball game, and Tracy, trying to be inconspicuous at the women's club meeting, are among the comic highlights. The star duo are so natural together that it's hard to believe this was their first teaming, and the chemistry carried over into their private lives as well, beginning a romance that lasted 25 years.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR is, deservedly, a classic!
this film sparkles like champagne. Okay the plot is flimsy, not to mention corny, but the magnetism and chemistry that goes on between Tracy and Hepburn is enough to keep you enthralled for hours. The dialogue is witty and snappy, and there are many hilarious moments not to be missed. It's lovely to see such an old fashioned fun movie that makes you laugh and cry at the same time. The most wonderful moment in the film has got to be when they kiss for the first time, it's wonderful, and you can feel the warmth between them.
Most commentators on this movie miss the its point completely, and
criticize what they misunderstand as the outdated sexual politics of
the 1940's from the standpoint of the outdated sexual politics of the
1970's. Blinded by political correctness, they miss the many virtues of
the sparkling script.
The point of the script is actually relatively modest. It is not, in fact it is far from, The Taming of the Shrew, or the subjugation of the independent woman. Tracy's character admires Hepburn's character's independence and competence, and he doesn't want her to renounce them to become the "little woman" -- that is the burden of his "kitchen speech" at the end. He simply understands better than she does, at least until the end of the film, that maintaining a relationship and a marriage requires time, work, and attention. That may well be an unwelcome message, but it is not an unwise one.
The comedy of the film comes from their characters' different worlds -- Tracy is a sportswriter and Hepburn an international politics columnist. The drama comes from their different levels of commitment to being a couple. The script delicately and for the most part successfully (with the possible exception of the Greek orphan subplot), balances these two conflicts and the comedy and drama.
In their first of nine co-star rings, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer
Tracy play Tess Harding and Sam Craig, reporters at a newspaper who get
married. Naturally, Sam assumes that Tess will "settle down" and just
be a wife, but she is very independent, with events to cover all over
the world. They sort of forget that they're married.
You just can't beat a pairing like Tracy and Hepburn. "Woman of the Year" moves along like a...I can't even come up with a good comparison, but I basically mean that it's very brisk. It's impossible not to like this movie. You would have to be a full-scale sourpuss not to like this movie. A comedy classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I always find it amusing to read critiques of classic movies by people
who judge them by today's standards. If one wants modern themes, stick
to modern movies.
I adore classic movies because I love good stories (even if they aren't perfect and are predictable), classic actors (saying Spencer Tracy was a horrible actor just reveals one's ignorance) and also to see the settings (clothes, cars, etc.) of that era.
That said, I enjoyed Woman Of The Year, but I don't think it's a perfect (or even an excellent) movie. I will watch it again, mainly for the much talked about chemistry between Hepburn and Tracy.
Their romance (on screen and off) is legendary and this film shows us why. In the scene in the bar (just after Tess comes out from under the table) Tess says "Look, Sam". When Spencer Tracy says the line, "I'm looking", the way he says it makes it one of the sexiest things I've ever seen on screen (and I usually think Gable and Grant are the sexiest men on screen, not Tracy).
I thought the final scene in the kitchen was odd and much too long. It also seemed out of place with the rest of the film. I did like that Sam said he wanted Tess Harding Craig and not Mrs. Sam Craig, so that saved it (somewhat) for me.
All in all, this film is definitely worth seeing. Just be wary of people who proclaim it perfect.
Woman of the Year (1942)
There are a few George Stevens films that I've connected with (Swing Time, of course, but that's not Stevens that makes it work, and Penny Serenade with Cary Grant, and Giant with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor much later). But most of his films have some awkward or artless feeling to them that put me off, like Shane, a western of some fame that I can't even make it through, and I'll watch almost anything.
And so there is this one, somewhere in the middle. It's oddly called Woman of the Year (for an award she wins that doesn't completely matter to the plot). It stars two of the most lovable and funny people out there, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in their first film. (They made nine together.) Maybe Stevens was too busy making anti-Nazi films to notice that he had some goods here that other directors would die for, but the plot drags, the filming is surprisingly lifeless (even though Stevens started out as a cinematographer). Most of all, the two actors are rarely given room to make their chemistry ignite. And I'm a fan of the two of them, so there was fence to cross on that score.
I know, I know, the movie even won academy awards for the writing. So take this all as just one person's take. And see for yourself. It is in fact well written, and the idea is fresh enough to start. It just should have more velocity than it does.
The plot circles around an unlikely romance (very screwball comedy stuff) that gets consummated (a screwball comedy no-no, until the last scene), and then has some funny but now familiar gags in the home (the kitchen scene in particular). This is actually odd for 1942, when men are mostly likely not competing for kitchen space with their new wives, but are instead going to war. (It's like there's a Depression backdrop here that someone forgot to notice was no longer appropriate. In 1937, moviegoers might dream of having just such a kitchen and such a life, and when things go wrong it's truly funny, but I'm not so sure in 1942.)
Take two very opposite news writers and have them clashing and then falling in love (the woman a worldly political writer who speaks a dozen languages, the man a likable but uncomplicated sports writer). Have their careers get in the way of their love affair. Have a Euro-based intellectual set and the salty stadium and bar crowd mingle (including one of my favorites, William Bendix). You get the idea. If there are not always sparks, there is a little smoke.
A lot of reviews on romantic comedies and the like talk about this
thing called "chemistry" between actors, when it seems the two actors
are capable of really presenting true, real life emotions between them.
When it comes to the Spenser Tracy/Katherine Hepburn pairing, the word
"chemistry" is used quite often. The thing about it is, though, that
this stuff goes way beyond chemistry. This is real, honest-to-life
Spenser Tracy's character is utterly relatable. He reacts and he does what it seems any guy of the era, or even today, would do in such a situation. His character is torn between his absolute adoration of Tess, and the knowledge that not only will he never amount to what Tess is, he also is pretty much emasculated by her self-actualization.
And for Katherine Hepburn, who plays Tess, there couldn't have been a better role. Hepburn, who was naturally independent anyway, plays the role of a knowledgeable Woman's Woman without needing an extra breath.
The thing about the films with these two are that they actually present a relationship, not just a courtship and a "and then they lived happily ever after, for all time" ending. They show the real issues with communication, work, space, and borders, everything that must be understood about a person to make it work. And they are absolutely adoring of each other.
Just like in the later film, Adam's Rib (1949), this film presents the issues and friction in their relationship almost spectacularly well from both sides. I can't say that this film was as good as Adam's Rib (George Steven's directing is just a tad off-balanced and the pacing is a little uneven), but at any rate it's a real joy to watch, from the beginning courting to the slapstick ending.
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