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Of the nine films which paired Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn,
Adam's Rib is often considered the best. Writers Ruth Gordon and Garson
Kanin were friends of the famous couple and wrote the film specifically
for them. Kate insisted the film be directed by her favorite screen
director, George Cukor, who services the brilliant writing and
on-screen chemistry with his trademark elegant staging and unobtrusive
style. The result is a comedy that remains the best "battle of the
sexes" films ever made.
When Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) discovers her husband in the arms of another woman, she opens fire and is charged with attempted murder. Enter Adam and Amanda Bonner (Tracy and Hepburn), married lawyers whose lives are turned upside down when Adam is assigned to the prosecution. An ardent proponent of women's rights, Amanda decides to represent Doris, claiming that if the sex of the parties on trial were switched, the jury would feel differently. This conflict of interests creates friction in the courtroom as well as the Bonners' home.
Spencer Tracy, with his confident and relaxed screen presence, paints Adam as a man quite comfortable with his wife's force and ambition. But Adam grows upset with Amanda as the media spotlight finds the case and magnifies it into a cause for women's rights. He accuses Amanda with disregard for the law, reminding her that no one, man or woman, has the right to take the law into their own hands, and that Amanda is using the case for her own selfish purposes. The script is careful not to polarize Adam's interests. He reveres the law and has no special affection for Doris' husband. In opposing him, Katherine Hepburn manages to retain her signature strength while also portraying Amanda as a loving wife who fears the damage her marriage may sustain because of the case and its publicity. Amanda alleges that Doris is doomed to an unfair trial because the general public irrationally feels male infidelity is much more permissible than female infidelity.
The courtroom becomes a spectacle when Amanda puts a circus strong-woman on the stand and asks her to lift Adam. Tracy rises to the occasion, with an angry outburst that is empowered by his otherwise calm and restrained performance. Despite their marital bliss before the case, Adam admits that he likes "two sexes" and doesn't care for having a wife who is a "new woman" and a "competitor". This rare outpouring causes Amanda to realize just how personally Adam is taking the trial, and that it could result in their divorce.
Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin deserve special recognition for creating a balanced on-screen battle in what has always been a controversial debate - gender equality. Amanda's plight is shaded by her experiences as a woman, and Adam is presented as a man who admits to always trying to hear her side of the story. That their marriage was a happy one before the trial is an indication of the equality they had achieved together. Amanda is, in fact, equal to Adam in both the career and financial worlds. To create a sparring partner for Amanda, Gordon and Kanin could easily have presented a misogynist, or even a lovable but cantankerous traditionalist. They were wiser to portray Adam as a man who simply refused to see the case as one for gender equality, but for vigilantism.
As directed by George Cukor, Adam's Rib features a great many long takes that play uninterrupted. Even during moments of action, like the scene in which both Bonners are getting dressed for dinner, Cukor utilizes minimal staging and camera movement. The camera points directly across the Bonners' bedroom, with her dressing room off frame left and his off frame right. They shout at each other, poking their heads into the frame, occasionally walking through the frame and back again. And later, when Adam discovers Kip and Amanda together, the ensuing fight is framed similarly, with the camera looking down the apartment hallway, characters popping into frame from the left or right and back again. This isn't to say Cukor doesn't move his camera much. There are several decisive camera movements, but Cukor's sparing use of them, and his tendency to rely more on well-composed master angles gives the film an elegant, traditional Hollywood style. The film also benefits from a lively score by Mikos Rozsa and a catchy Cole Porter tune, "Farewell Amanda". Jean Hagen, unforgettable for her comic turn in Singin' in the Rain, again demonstrates her talent for comedy as the "other woman".
Cukor must have realized that with Tracy and Hepburn on screen, all the camera really had to do was follow them, frame them, and let the sparks fly.
The screenplay and the actors' off-screen romance are gifts to the film. We feel for both of them, and believe in what both are trying to achieve. It is rare that a film about difference and equality plays so fairly to all parties involved, and also rare that such a sensitive subject can retain its comic appeal. But for all the film says about equality, Adam's Rib ultimately serves to remind us that when it comes to Hepburn and Tracy, there is no equal. - Scott Schirmer
'Adam's Rib' is arguably the greatest Tracy-Hepburn film, and is certainly
the most popular of their teamings. Brightly written (by the husband and
wife team of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin), it takes the premise of a wife
(the sparkling Judy Holliday, in her film debut) on trial for shooting her
unfaithful husband (Tom Ewell, establishing himself in the kind of role he'd
reprise in The Seven-Year Itch), and turns it into a forum of the sexual
values and standards of the 1940s, and a showcase for the fabulous Tracy and
Hepburn, who were were never better than as the battling D.A. and defense
attorney. In the courtroom and out, the love they share, and tweaking of
each other's egos is a sheer joy to watch. That the story is also a knowing
commentary about women's inequality under the law makes the film even more
topical today, and doesn't reduce the film's enjoyment value at all. It is a
VERY funny film, and can be enjoyed at MANY levels!
In addition to Holliday and Ewell, the supporting cast includes the terrific David Wayne as a smarmy songwriter-neighbor who covets Hepburn, and 'writes' the ditty 'Goodbye, Amanda' for her (actually composed by Cole Porter, Hepburn's character's name in the film was changed to Amanda, to fit the song!)
Among the many wonderful scenes of the film are the 'home movie', which accurately reflected much of Tracy and Hepburn's own relationship; the infamous massage scene ("I know a slap...!"); the circus 'Strong Woman', demonstrating that women can be as physically powerful as men by lifting the panicking Tracy over her head easily (in the middle of the courtroom!); the infamous licorice-gun confrontation as Tracy confronts Hepburn with Wayne; and Tracy's crying-on-demand revelation.
'Adam's Rib' is a film which never seems to age, but just gets better and better!
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut
to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it
Two New York lawyers, husband Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy) and wife Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn), work out the marital tension and fight the sexual wars in the courtroom on opposite sides of a wife (Judy Holliday) shoots cheating husband (Tom Ewell) case. Adam's masculinity is seemingly challenged and his sense of justice offended by his wife's insistence on showing how smart she is while furthering her feminist agenda at the expense of the law. Will their public confrontation destroy their marriage, or will it ultimately make the bond stronger?
This still plays mainly because of the charisma of Hepburn and Tracy and the fine chemistry they create together. The script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon is shallow and profound by turns, yet ultimately witty and pleasing. Judy Holliday as the lower middle-class Doris Attinger (on her way to her signature role in Born Yesterday (1950)) and David Wayne, as the song-writing neighbor who adores Amanda, shine in supporting roles. George Cukor's direction is clear, crisp and always focused. In the end we can see that Adam can be as feminine as Amanda can be masculine. The bit where Tracy cries real tears to win her back and then tells her, "We all have our tricks" is classic. It's his clever answer to her outrageous courtroom theatrics. Memorable as it illuminates their contrasting personalities is the early scene where the unsophisticated Doris is interviewed by Yale law school grad Amanda.
As a political movie, was Adam's Rib ahead of its time as a vehicle for feminist expression, or was it just another apology for male chauvinism, or was it balanced and fair? I'll give you a hint: the title is ironic. One of the things that made the Tracy/Hepburn romance work so well for so long was the creative balance they maintained in the battle of the sexes. The script by Kanin and Gordon carefully continues that profoundly true equilibrium.
Feminist attorney Katharine Hepburn has a new cause. She freely admits
to doing a bit of ambulance chasing to get the case of Judy Holliday
who shot her husband Tom Ewell after catching him in a love nest with
floozy Jean Hagen.
Problem is that of all the cases that he could have been assigned, Spencer Tracy, Hepburn's husband and assistant District Attorney, he got assigned to prosecute Holiday. I guess Spence felt a little of what Bogey felt when Ingrid Bergman came back into his life in Casablanca.
Men down through the ages have certainly had the right to shoot the lovers of their wives when caught, why not women argues Hepburn. The case gets quite a bit of notoriety and of course it puts a strain on the marriage.
But the plot is sure the right vehicle for a lot of great lines and situations. This is Spence and Kate at their very best. Of the comedies they did, this is my favorite, just like State of the Union is my favorite among the more serious films.
Probably Adam's Rib's best known scene is when defense witness Hope Emerson picks up Spencer Tracy in a visual attempt to show feminine prowess and power. Even after seeing it several times you still will laugh yourself silly.
For Adam's Rib, George Cukor denuded Broadway of stars to play in support of Tracy and Hepburn. Making film debuts were David Wayne, Tom Ewell, Judy Holliday, and Jean Hagen.
Wayne is particularly funny and if Adam's Rib was made today, he'd certainly be more explicitly gay. He's the next door neighbor of Spence and Kate and some of the cracks Tracy aims in his direction would be considered downright homophobic. But let's face it, Wayne is an obnoxious scamp and that bit of vengeance that Tracy wreaks upon him and Hepburn in the climax involving licorice is a great cinematic moment.
Adam's Rib is Tracy and Hepburn at the very top of their game and I think folks who are not necessarily fans of their's would be amused.
Adam's Rib turned out to be a delightfully cheeky romp with a kicker sense of humour, all acted out with ease by Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn. I love how the film veers from the courtroom right into their marital home and becomes not just about a battle of wills, but a battle of the sexes as well, much fun watching this famous couple go at each other, both at work and at home. The film benefits greatly from the appearance of the lovely Judy Holliday in her breakthrough role, and it amused me greatly to see David Wayne playing a shifty character as I remember him fondly from the Twilight Zone episode Escape Clause in 1959. 8/10
For a while it seems that "Adam's Rib" will be hard to take. More
precisely: Katharine Hepburn's Amanda is hard to take. Her feminism - when
put to the test - amounts to little more than anthem singing; and however
sympathetic her client may be, we can see at once that the case for the
defence is almost entirely frivolous. Yet George Cukor is standing in the
gallery, apparently cheering her on. It's infuriating. It's like watching
an Edwardian comedy about suffragettes.
Well, no. The film is a good deal smarter than we had given it credit for being ... oh, very well, smarter than *I* had given it credit for being. Gordon, Kanin and Cukor understand our infuriation; the supposedly shrill dispute in the first half is merely a starting point. Maybe audiences these days AREN'T too sophisticated for this kind of film. Maybe we're too stupid. (Oh, very well, maybe I'M too stupid.) -In any event, this is really a story about Adam and Amanda. Their story becomes deeper as the trial becomes shallower.
Even while it's infuriating us (our infuriation will be used to good effect later, of course) "Adam's Rib" is never less than pleasant to watch. One reason is that Hepburn and Tracy are just so brilliant. The script serves them both well: neither player is denied good lines, and any impression that Hepburn is meant to be just some hothead, or that Tracy is meant to be just some schmuck, is transitory. This is a wonderful script! My only previous exposure to Hepburn and Tracy had been in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", where their partnership was the only thing holding the film together; I wasn't at all prepared for the sheer energy they generate when they set to work on stronger material. Moreover they seem perfectly natural as a married couple.
The music is good, too. There's a catchy original song (not a gratuitous addition ... although it wouldn't matter if it was) by Cole Porter; the rest of the score was written by Miklós Rózsa, in one of his rare lighter moments.
"Adam's Rib", directed by George Cukor, and with a screenplay by Ruth
Ford and Garson Kanin, was one of the happiest films the two stars did
together. Mr. Cukor knew how to direct this couple, and it shows. There
are no false moments in a movie.
The rivalry between Adam Bonner and Amanda, his wife, comes to a head as they both get involved in a criminal case. Adam, as an Assistant D.A. is assigned to it. Amanda, as a successful trial lawyer, decides to get involved in it because she believes Doris Attinger acted in a moment of madness.
This film was ahead of its time because Amanda questions the right of a woman to be judged the same way as a man, something the penal system seemed to ignore. Doris Attinger is a woman that has had enough with the philandering husband that appears to have fallen out of love with her. Warren Attinger doesn't care who he hurts, until Doris decides to take the matter into her own hands.
Katherine Hepburn shows an impeccable delivery as Amanda Bonner. She has an inner beauty that shines and make her glow. Ms. Hepburn was at the top of her career just about then and it shows. Spencer Tracy is Ms. Hepburn's match as the D.A. prosecuting the case. Mr. Tracy is delightful to watch in their scenes together. He has such a mischievous presence that endeared him to us in anything he played.
The revelation in this film was Judy Holliday. As Doris, the accused woman, she shows talent beyond imagination. In a way, it is sad to realize this amazing actress didn't live to make it even bigger in the movies. She was a natural and she is a joy to watch in the film. Lucky are we to be able to see her best work preserved for posterity.
In minor roles David Wayne plays Kip Lurie, a Broadway composer. He is an annoying neighbor who admires Amanda, much to Adam's chagrin. Kip has written a song that becomes popular, "Dear Amanda", that is heard throughout the movie. Also, in the cast Jean Hagen, Eve March, and Hope Emerson who are effective in their roles.
Thanks to George Cukor, Ruth Ford and Garson Kanin for bringing this enjoyable comedy to the screen. Above all, thanks to Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn for playing the Bonners.
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn make fireworks in this cute film
about a well-to-do married couple who both happen to be lawyers.
Hepburn is a die-hard Woman's Rights supporter, so when a ditzy lady is
charged with shooting her husband after catching him being unfaithful,
Kate decides to take her case and defend her. The trouble is,
old-fashioned husband Tracy is already penciled in as the prosecuting
attorney. Let the Battle of the Sexes begin!
The script sets up a great opportunity to have Tracy and Hepburn sparring with one another during every phase of the trial, as well as at home every night after they've spent each day trying to outwit each other. As a comedy, there aren't any huge belly-laughs, but it's a charming enough little take on the differences between men and women which also manages to make the point that, in many ways, the sexes aren't really all that different when all is said and done.
**** out of ****
Sometimes in life, we experience the most embarrassing situations. But
no matter how embarrassing these situations are, they can't possibly be
as whacked-out as what the characters in "Adam's Rib" experience.
It all begins when Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) shoots her husband Warren (Tom Ewell) after she finds him cheating on her. She is promptly arrested for attempted murder. High-priced lawyer Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy) is assigned to represent Warren in court. However, Adam's wife Amanda (Katharine Hepburn) finds it despicable that a woman was arrested for punishing her unfaithful husband, and decides to represent Doris in court.
Well, as you can imagine, with husband and wife on opposite sides of the trial, things get a little crazy. It only makes sense that they can't help but maintain their spousal attitudes towards each other while in court (especially under the table). But even Amanda starts to find Adam unpleasant for defending Warren, and she plays a few tricks on him in court, namely with a very muscular woman.
One thing that you have to wonder after seeing a movie this good is: how did Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin come up with such a great story? Well, the point is that they did. It focuses not only on sexism, but also on how the whole trial is affecting their marriage.
Anyway, the point is that in my opinion, "Adam's Rib" should have won Best Picture for 1949. Perfect.
ADAM'S RIB is probably the most well-known of the nine Tracy/Hepburn films
(with, perhaps, the exception of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner). It stars
Spencer Tracy as Adam Bonner, and Katharine Hepburn as his
alliteratively-named wife, Amanda. When they wind up as opposing counsel on
the same Attinger v Attinger case (Adam prosecuting, Amanda defending),
sparks of all sorts--romantic, angry, sexual--fly through the courtroom and
Given the extremely flawed feminism of WOMAN OF THE YEAR (Tracy and Hepburn's first film together), I was worried that ADAM'S RIB would be more of the same--understandable, given that it is written by Garson Kanin, the mastermind behind the first film. The message of the film is certainly muted by the shenanigans Amanda gets up to in the courtroom--deliberately flustering Adam by giving her client a hat he had given her, for example; or flirting with him under the table (a naughty, electric scene); or even worse, having Adam literally shown up by a circus woman. It does occasionally make you wonder why Amanda has to resort to such silly tactics to make such a serious point about equal rights for women. But this really is just a minor offense--I present the entire series of 'Ally McBeal' as proof that, if ADAM'S RIB *did* present female lawyers as silly and flighty, it is hardly the only offender, and the fact that it was made in 1949 might excuse it. 'Ally McBeal' doesn't have that same excuse.
In fact, I *don't* think that ADAM'S RIB is as schizophrenic about affirming the female and equal rights as WOMAN OF THE YEAR is. Yes, Amanda does some silly things in court--this is a flaw in the film, albeit (I feel) a minor one. But, discounting that, Amanda is by all accounts a character the audience can (and do) sympathise with. Moreover, she is affirmed at the end in a way the Tess Harding character never is. I find it very interesting that, at the end, it is *Adam* who schemes to win Amanda back. (Contrast this with WOMAN OF THE YEAR: Tess has to win Sam back, and to do so, must be 'domesticated'.) The film actually makes the point that both Adam and Amanda are partly right--her cause is just as pertinent as his, and they both eventually come to respect what the other is fighting for. That's what gives them a true marriage, a true union based on sharing and trust, give and take. (Again, by contrast, this came under serious fire in WOMAN OF THE YEAR.)
In the end, ADAM'S RIB really is a wonderful film: it's not without its flaws, of course, but what it comes down to is a truly delightful little romantic comedy, with sparkling performances from its leads. It's a true delight to see Tracy and Hepburn playing a happily married couple who evidently love each other deeply. They really do play together perfectly--always in sync, and so believable as people who are going to spend the rest of their lives with each other. For them, it's the little moments that make all the difference; one of my favourites is when Adam and Amanda are screening a home movie for their party guests. Worried that Adam is mad at her (as he has every reason to be!), Amanda moves quickly across the dark room to him, and gently rests her head on his lap, before returning to her seat. Such a sweet, romantic little gesture, and yet it says volumes about their relationship.
Moreover, the film has plenty of little surprises (I was actually really pleased, and surprised, at the verdict given by the jury); a lovely supporting cast (including Jean Hagen and Judy Holliday, the latter's role being--effectively--a screen test for her later Hollywood career); and incredible dialogue fired off at an incredible pace. Plus, a sweet song by Cole Porter (albeit a very irritating, and crassly forward/opportunistic singer in the character of Kip), and some of the naughtiest scenes in film history that never took place onscreen.
Well, well worth the watch. 9/10.
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