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After a period of vacation in Hawaii, Joanna "Joey" Drayton returns to her parents' home in San Francisco bringing her fiancé, the high-qualified Dr. John Prentice, to introduce him to her mother Christina Drayton that owns an art gallery and her father Matt Drayton that is the publisher editor of the newspaper The Guardian. Joey was raised with a liberal education and intends to get married with Dr. John Prentice that is a black widower and needs to fly on that night to Geneva to work with the World Health Organization. Joey invites John's parents Mr. Prentice and Mrs. Prentice to have dinner with her family and the couple flies from Los Angeles to San Francisco without knowing that Joey is white. Christina invites also the liberal Monsignor Ryan, who is friend of her family. Along the day and night, the families discuss the problems of their son and daughter. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Explores interracial marriage and hidden prejudice, but a ridiculous scenario
This landmark classic of the 1960's Civil Rights era brought to light the controversial issue of interracial marriage. Its ongoing relevance lies in viewers examining their own hidden prejudices and considering their personal response to an offspring bringing home a fiancé of a different race. While I applaud the theme, it's not at all effectively presented in this absurd situation.
The story revolves around a liberal, upper middle class white couple, Matt Drayton (a newspaper publisher) and Christina Drayton (who owns an art gallery). Their assumed anti racist attitudes are put to the test when their daughter, Joanna, brings home a widowed black doctor, John Prentice, and introduces him as her fiancé. She has met him during a 10 day trip to Hawaii, and they must jet off that very night to Geneva, as he has a post with the World Health Organization in Switzerland. Joanna seeks the blessing of both sets of parents, so John's working class parents from Los Angeles are also invited to dinner. They are no more pleased than the Draytons that their son has chosen a white fiancée, the prejudices operating both ways here. Thus, the memorable dinner party is set up...
The Drayton parents are played by those beloved stars, Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn. Personally, I feel the movie is totally over rated due to a sense of nostalgia for this pair. The film addresses the whole issue of hidden prejudices in those who pride themselves as anti racist. The Drayton couple, who have an African-American maid, are nevertheless very open minded for their day. Christina has even fired an employee because of her prejudiced views. Hepburn is cast in her typical independent, feminist, feisty role as the proudly liberal Mrs. Drayton, whom I personally found irritating with her superior airs.
Personally, I much preferred the ordinary working class Prentice parents to the affluent, fashionably liberal, and agnostic Draytons. I think 1960's audiences would have related better to a more typical white suburban couple from middle America than to this rather atypical pair. How many mothers of that era operated an avant guard art gallery? It might actually have imparted greater depth to the story if these parents had been trying to reconcile their formerly buried, but now surfacing prejudices with the tenants of their faith. A Catholic priest (family friend) does give his opinions on the nuptials, but he's a goofy rather than wise or inspiring character. By the way, is there some implication here that the agnostics of that era were a more enlightened lot than all the religious, church attending Christians?
As for myself, the movie is most notable for the on screen presence of the handsome Sidney Poitier. This is probably his most memorable role as the polite, respectable, well educated fiancé doctor, who has risen above his blue collar roots. The annoying daughter, played by Katharine Houghton, doesn't seem to have much of a role. Even though it's all mainly about the parents, her character could surely have had a little more depth. Skin color notwithstanding, I could hardly picture the perky, clueless, dewy eyed Joanna and her serious, intelligent, older (late 30's), and infinitely more mature fiancé having much in common, now that they've left their tropical Hawaiian paradise and are back in the real world.
My major problem with the film is the hokey, unrealistic drama of it all. The couple must leave for Geneva that very night for their imminent marriage. No time to get accustomed to the fiancé or make plans, all very dramatic. But especially, the whirlwind...and I do mean, whirlwind... ten day courtship. These 'intellectual' parents aren't exhibiting much intelligence in their priorities here. I cannot imagine any parents, now or even back then, more upset with the color of the fiancé's skin (supposing it was purple) than with the fact that their daughter had known him for such an incredibly short period of time...distinguished, Yale educated doctor or not. Balmy tropical nights, swaying palm trees, and tall cool drinks rather than getting acquainted with each other in daily routine life. It's unbelievable, absurd, and outrageous, removing all credibility from the film.
This movie proved dull and disappointing, the scenario totally ridiculous. However, its theme is certainly thought provoking, causing a personal examination of conscience in the viewer. Even though interracial marriage is common and quite acceptable in many (not all) circles today, this is a definitive, though woefully flawed, piece of cinema that put the title phrase in everyone's vocabulary.
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