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It's so easy to criticize this film. The soundtrack from DeVol is *awful*.
The film is incredibly dated and there are some scenes, (the scene with the
delivery boy and the ice cream shop), that are unbearable, like something
out of a Gidget film.
Of course the other problem with this film, 33 years after its production, is who in the year 2000, would be upset about their daughter marrying a Yale educated Doctor?
However, despite all this, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a great film. The film is wonderful because it was the last film made by one of Hollywood's greatest duos, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
This film was made while Spencer Tracy was dying. Spencer had to put his entire salary in escrow in order for the film company to allow him to do the film.
So why did Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy agree to do this film, without immediate payment? Because it's a film about forbidden love, it's a film about loving someone no matter what society thinks, or what the rules are. This is something Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn knew a great deal about.
What makes this film outstanding is, by the end of the film you realize, Kate and Spencer are not even acting they are relaying their feelings about each other, through the film. Once you catch that, the drama of the final few scenes is just unparalleled and Spencer's final speech, about his love for Kate (Christina), can drive even the most twisted soul to tears.
A few things to catch in this film, watch Kate's face when Spencer recites the line, 'screw what the rest of the world thinks about your love'...those are real tears. Watch Spencer Tracey as he paces back and forth on the terrace near the end of the film. He realizes he is about to begin one of the last scenes he will ever film. He's line 'well I'll be a son of a bitch'...is more a realization he's about to make his last grandstand on the big screen, in his entire career.
Spencer Tracy is one of America's greatest actors. This is his last triumph. For that reason alone, it's a true cinematic treasure.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner takes place during the course of one day
as two families struggle to overcome their concerns about the
interracial marriage of their children. This film is a treat for the
eyes with lovely sets and beautiful people. It also has a nice 1960's
feel that is reinforced by sophisticated wardrobing and an "easy
listening" soundtrack--featuring The Glory of Love as the signature
tune. The film relies very heavily on the use of dialog and reflects
the elegance of a time when people were entertained by stimulating
conversation. The San Francisco backdrop also is the perfect setting
for a movie that challenged racial convention.
But there are a few serious flaws. This is an introductory role for Katharine Houghton (Hepburn's niece) who plays Sidney Portier's fiancé--Johanna Drayton. Her inexperience is apparent, particularly in comparison to heavyweights Portier, Tracy and Hepburn and as a result, she is unconvincing in the part. Moreover, her character is not well-written or well-developed which makes it difficult to understand why Sidney Portier's character--John Prentice-would fall in love with a woman who appears to have so little to offer intellectually --given his significant professional achievements as a doctor. One also must ask why it was necessary for his character to be cast as a doctor in order to be seen as an acceptable partner for a young white woman who had not really accomplished anything accept being born into a privileged family. The answer is simple. Making Prentice a doctor-and not just any doctor-but a world renowned expert in tropical medicine, made the interracial relationship more acceptable to white audiences during the 1960s.
The other cast members are outstanding and the on-screen chemistry phenomenal. Katharine Hepburn (Christina Drayton) and Spencer Tracy (Newspaper Publisher Matt Drayton) deliver brilliant performances as Johanna's parents. John Prentice's modest working class parents are played with great dignity by Beah Richards and Roy E. Glen. Mrs. Prentice and Mrs. Drayton favor the marriage and both characters provide passionate, articulate arguments as to why their husbands should agree. But their husbands voice serious objections and the families spend the evening in intense discussions over the issue, accurately reflecting the racial fears that existed 40 years ago. Prentice's father reminds him that in many states interracial marriage is illegal and that he is "getting out of line." There are also a number of very memorable and funny lines. In the scene in which Matt Drayton wonders why "the colored kids dance better than the white kids", Portier's response is classic--"you dance the Watusi, but we are the Watusi!"(For readers under 40, the Watusi was a popular dance in the 1960s and also an African tribe). Cecil Kelloway, who plays friend of the family, Monsignor Ryan, deftly brings a sense of humor and moral guidance that is effective because it is not "preachy". He challenges Matt Drayton's liberal credentials and suggests that Drayton's misgivings about his daughter marrying a black man reveal his hypocrisy. Isabel Sanford ("Weezy from The Jeffersons TV program) plays the feisty maid of the Draytons.
It's been said that in the final scene Tracy--who was very ill at the time and who died shortly after the movie was completed--delivered one of the longest soliloquies in American film history, in only one take. Katherine Helpurn was clearly so moved by the scene that it's hard to believe that she is just acting as her eyes brim with tears.
Although the some of the sentiments are dated, this film is highly entertaining, and provides a rare opportunity to experience outstanding performances from six gifted actors who bring compassion and depth to Stanley Kramer's film. Its' angst relative to interracial marriage also reminds us of how far we have not come.
Seeing this film for the first time more than thirty years after it was
made, I was struck by the theme's endurance in time. It remains relevant
today, even if not to the same degree. And even though I'm almost thirty
years old, I can say with mixed emotions of embarrassment and vindication,
that Spencer Tracy taught me a better way to tie a tie. Who's says movies
don't teach you anything?
The film is dated, to be sure, by many things, from clothing to music, cars and expressions. At times the dialogue seemed a bit hokey, and others, simply brilliant. I swear, I half expected an entourage of go-go dancers to spontaneously burst through the streets of San Francisco. And if I never hear the "Story Of Love" ever again in my life, it would be too soon.
But I can't help but think that the more things change in thirty years, sometimes they remain the same. Certainly there's more examples of interracial couples today than thirty years ago, and therefore a greater degree of tolerance, but for a lot of narrow-minded individuals, it's still as controversial or "appalling" as it was thirty years ago.
Some of the lines actually had me laughing out loud, enjoying the moment as it follows into another well complimented scene. I'm speaking in particular of the scene where Katharine Hepburn fires her employee for her prejudicial views, and basically everything that follows that scene for the next five minutes.
I try my best to imagine what it would be like to be in the shoes of any character in the film, to appreciate what it might've been like for them, in that time, and while I think I can muster an inkling, I don't think my creativity is up to a challenge of that nature. And I think that ultimately, that's a good thing, and I'm grateful to those who came before.
Here's a great way to spend an afternoon: watching some of the greatest
actors of all time in a film that still has relevance today. Such a
cast! Hepburn is wonderful as always, very energetic, with no trace of
the shakiness of her later years.
Tracy, gruff, the way most probably remember him - sort of a ratcheted up version of the roles he played with Hepburn in earlier years. His ill health is obvious though to the careful observer: voice a little weak at times, and Tracy's step missing the "spring" of his earlier films. The fact that this his last film was so memorable, and of such quality just adds to his legend.
Potier of course turns in a great performance, impeccable as always.
Watch for Isabel Sanford, ("The Jefferson's") particularly the one memorable scene where she explains to Potier's character just what "black power" really is.
Cecil Kellaway sparkles as Monsignor Ryan, and Beah Richards and Roy Glenn, as the parents to Potier's character, mirror Hepburn and Tracy.
Indeed, there is so much real honest-to-god acting talent concentrated in this movie, it seems almost unfair, what I'm about to say: Katharine Houghton, as 'Joey' is the only character with only 2 dimensions. She's the ever-smiling, but clueless daughter and object of Dr. Prentice' affection. She's such a Pollyanna, and remains oblivious to the drama going on all around her, and everyone else conspires to keep her in the dark throughout the entire film. (No wonder her father is concerned.) I think it's fair to say that Houghton's character is the one weak spot in this otherwise excellent film.
That said, this is a wonderful film that I will always watch when it comes on. It's such a treat to watch these legendary actors at work. I highly recommend it.
By the way, there's no glass in Spencer's eyeglasses during the ending monologue, is there he's wearing only frames, right?
Hmmm. I'm torn about this movie but I guess overall I find it too out
of balance to work as other than as an historical piece.
The things I like about it? The sound-stage version of an outrageous San Francisco home. (A bridge to bridge view from the patio, which is not to be confused with the separate garden. Filled with expensive art. If such a place existed what would it cost today? $10 million? $15 million - but when the parents go out for ice cream they drive what would be a sort of old looking small to mid-sized car. Ah, Hollywood!) Seeing Isobel Sanford in something that doesn't involve Sherman Helmsley. Katharine Hepburn going through four slightly-oddball costumes over about 9 hours of movie time. (And what is with her and her choice of hats?!?) The bizarro, off-kilter scene with the dancing delivery boy.
The things I don't like? Well first and foremost the fact that this movie is set up so as to eliminate any sense of the REAL complexities of life. Poitier's character is not just a great guy, he is a physician. Wait, no ... not just a physician but one who has been on the faculty of some of the best medical schools...AND who has devoted his career to public health AND who is internationally well-known. Gosh, you think, is there ANY white man that Joanna might ever meet who could be as well-credentialled as him? And Joanna, we are told, has always been HAPPY!!! as a baby, as a child, as a teen, in college. Why, she's just the most perfect thing. Her parents? Unabashed liberals. Generous and kind to the help (even giving a $5000 bonus to an employee being fired.) His parents? Sober and hard-working. Sacrificing for their son. Kind and loving.
Wouldn't it be nice to see at least one of the parents being SOMEWHAT unpleasant?
Kramer just sets things up in a way where there is no real tension in the movie. We know Tracy and Hepburn's characters are too good to turn into bigots and that they are such great parents that their daughter's happiness is all that will matter. They may be friends with a Catholic monseigneur (though a point is made to say at least twice that they aren't Roman Catholics, what's that about?) but he is the most liberal happy-go-lucky priest that existed in the 1960's and raises not a single objection to interracial marriage (uncharacteristic of the Irish priests I knew of from the 60s --- but maybe it's because he's so busy drinking Scotch -- if you'll excuse THAT offensive Irish stereotype in a movie about prejudice.)
The look and feel of the movie is a little odd, because of the juxtaposition of real locations (SFO, the ice cream store) with the very "faux" stage set style used in scenes like the driveway in front of the house. For a movie that is supposed to be exploring the gritty reality of racism in America, seeing someone drive a phony delivery truck past the fake plants outside the fake house seems particularly jarring and inappropriate.
And of course, everyone is rich or well-to-do. Even the retired postal worker and his wife can afford to fly up to SF on a last minute airfare (which were even less cheap back in the 1960s than they are today) and, we are assured, can afford to fly to Geneva for the wedding? So ultimately their "problems" about love and marriage seem less important, because we don't really worry that John or Joanna's lives will be seriously crippled if they don't marry --- they are both so VERY charming, successful, self-directed and fulfilled that we know that they would find someone else if it came to that.
(For that matter, no one seems too bothered by the more substantial problem, which is that people who fall in love "in 20 minutes" and plan to marry only weeks after meeting, are quite likely to find themselves unhappily stuck with a person they knew nothing about -- regardless of their color.)
And poor Sydney Poitier, who I think was probably a good actor but seemed to have to sacrifice his talent on the cross of being the first great cross-over black movie actor --- always playing someone who is whiter than the white folks around him, usually better spoken, always smarter, always having to deliver the over-written, didactic speech about how times are changing for the black man, and never allowed to use a contraction in a sentence, lest he sound too ethnic. I find his acting to be terribly mannered most of the time, but I think that is mostly because of the straight-jacket forced on him by the types of roles he played in the 1960s.
So the movie just feels very manufactured --- structured so that every point of view or objection will be raised but rationally batted aside and that -- less than 12 hours after they show up, the couple will head off to Switzerland with a family united behind them and the audience can all leave the theater feeling that love conquers all and dealing with racism is just a matter of having a good conversation over drinks.
I feel sorry for John Seal, the reviewer above, for his views on this movie, as well as his views on interracial marriage. I think this movie is excellent, I enjoyed the performances of all the actors and the message is important. Racial prejudice was common in 1967, and the very first interracial kiss on TV was still to come (it happened in 1969 on Star Trek). People needed to hear the message this movie contains, that color and race are not something that should prevent two people who love each other from marrying. I am a white American married to a Japanese female and I am proud that our children will grow up to live in a world where people have tolerance for different cultures and beliefs. It is sad to watch Spencer Tracy in this movie, knowing he died weeks after it was made. But it was nice that he could act with Katherine Hepburn, the love of his life, so close to his death. That must have made him happy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While Spencer Tracy was making a fervent plea at the climax of the
film, Kramer's camera was moving to a particular shot... His camera was
about to impart the flavor, the splendor, the magic of love...
Tracy was pronouncing his 'last' touching words... He was simple, fluent, logic and eloquent in his presentation... His feelings were just part of his real life... Kramer took his profile with the face of Hepburn... Katherine was projecting compassionate eyes, full of tears as to overflow
We were in a great moment of cinema, of fond tenderness and cherish love between two great super stars... Tracy's words evoked loyalty and compliment to the woman he loved all his life and who was about to leave in few days... Tracy turned to Hepburn with a long look, and Kramer sustained the shot for few seconds with a deliberate silence...
Joey Drayton comes home from a ten-day Hawaiian vacation with the man she loves, John Prentice, a forty-year-old internationally respected Negro doctor Joey is determined not only to marry him immediately, but to have both sets of parents' blessings The couple must leave that night for Geneva and the doctor's post with the World Health Organization
Matt and Christina are extremely likable, intelligent, wealthy, and hard working He owns and operates a crusading newspaper in San Francisco and she runs an avant-garde art gallery Now both are faced with a true test of their liberal beliefs Further tension is introduced when the man's parents fly up from Los Angeles for dinner at the Draytons' and find themselves as shocked and dismayed as the girl's parents
Sidney Poitier looked charming, refined, civilized, and sophisticated... Katharine Houghton was fresh, innocent, and lovely...
The film won l0 Academy Award Nominations...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
People have, over the years, accused this film of making Sidney Poitier's character so flawless beyond a reasonable doubt that there would be no other way to accept his impending marriage (in the movie) to Katharine Houghton without making it a racial issue. The thing is, most people forget -- had Poitier been just a regular guy who had a less than stellar job, and been less than beautiful, this story would have ended up in the recycling bin. Just as gay people or Hispanics today, in order to create positive stories about themselves, have to idealize their characters to a god-like level, the same thing had to be done back then. And it was also appropriate to have not one, but two confrontation scenes: one with Poitier and Roy Glenn -- father and son -- and one with Beah Richards and Spencer, more subtle but equally poignant. GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER is a film that resonated back then despite its deadline plot and tidy ending because it came at the right time and needed a positive resolution. I doubt audiences back then would respond to any other. Although it would not shock me if people then would be thinking Hollywood had finally lost its edge with this one. It was a keen decision to have Kate and Spencer be the leads because in doing so they were assuring not only box-office draw -- people would be returning to watch their favorite unmarried couple bicker, lovingly, yet again -- but a strong statement. After all, these two have the biggest subtext in the entire film: they had had their own iconoclastic relationship, it was coming to a close, and one only had to see Kate's expression just to a side of Spence's shoulder as he gave his closing speech. She was sitting at the right of the screen, her eyes glistening with tears, feeling the time was close, knowing just how much they loved each other even to the end. On this element only -- the final, lingering shot of Kate and Spence embracing each other, getting ready for dinner and an uneasy future, GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER is perfect.
Although made in 1967, I was surprised how much I loved this movie,
from the beginning to the end. This is a kind of a comedy I haven't
seen maybe for years.
I felt the characters and the situation so alive and close to me, it is incredible. It remembered me when I had to make that first visit at a girlfriends house, meet the parents, be friendly to some completely unknown people, act as an adult, as a man, when there are four parents around... And there are scenes with a flip I will never forget, like Spencer Tracy eating his ice cream and changing his mind over it, Hilary being fired or the two fathers settling about the situation as 'the only reasonable people in the boat'.
The film also started me to think over how I would react as a parent in such a situation. Today, marriage between races is not that shocking, but I can easily imagine for my future daughter someone, who would shock me with his proposal. It easy to see others on screen struggling to break down their own walls and prejudices, but in real life it is so much harder. It is so true, what Mahatma Ghandi said - 'You must be the change you wish to see in the world'.
It's just a funny twist from life, that I've seen 'Kinsey' a few days ago, where Katharine Houghton also appears as Mrs. Spaulding, almost 40 years later (2005).
This movie became one of my favorites - 10/10.
This film is of course dated in many portions but still remains a powerful
motion picture over thirty years after its release. Superb acting and
is what overcomes the dated aspect. Hepburn and Tracy are Matt and
Christina Drayton a wealthy and successful couple who have a daughter
Joey played by Katherine Houghton who comes home and tells them she has
the man of her dreams. The only problem in the story is that he is of a
different race. Sidney Poitier is John Wade Prentice a successful
who is the man of Joeys dreams and is of the different race. The
are people who in theory hold no prejudice toward any one regardless of
their race, color or creed but now have those same views put harshly to
test when it's their own daughter involved. Sort of like the NIMBY
philosophy "YES YES build more prisons, build more nuclear power plants,
build more missile silos but Not In My BackYard! " Sure I believe in
interracial marriage as long as it's not my daughter".
John Wades parents essentially share the same views as the Draytons. However Johns parents particularly his father played by Roy E. Glenn Sr. seems more realistic when speaking to his child about the situation than does Matt Drayton. He tells his son the way it really is and most likely will be. "You'll even be illegal in some states" he reminds his son. The two couples eventually come to grips with the fact that no matter what they say they will not be able to prevent their two children from going through with their plans. Spencer Tracy throughout his film career delivered many powerful lines of dialog. The final moments of this film he delivers perhaps his greatest. Which also turned out to be his last. AFI ranked this film number ninety-nine on their list of top one hundred. Because of it's powerful story and social issue it deserved to be higher. Other films that deal with interracial marriage to see are 1956's GIANT and 1961's Bridge to the Sun.
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