Saturday, September 28, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "ADAM'S RIB"

ADAM’S RIB (1949)

Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin


Of course, it’s also hard to quantify Katharine Hepburn, a woman who was way ahead of her time, and probably the best actress of all-time. This film was way ahead of it’s time. A good 20+ years before the peak of the Women’s Rights movement, “Adam’s Rib,” details the arguments for and against equality for women, all taking place in a courtroom. Like many American films that dared to touch controversial subject matter, this film is a comedy, a light-hearted screwball one at that. It’s also probably the best of the Tracy/Hepburn films. Though he was married, and she remained single all her life, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were Hollywood’s golden couple on and off screen from years, starting, I believe with “Woman of the Year,” and including such great films as “Pat and Mike,” (Also directed by the great George Cukor) and finally ending with supporting performances in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, which was Tracy’s final film, and would earn Hepburn her third Oscar. (She holds the record with 4, and until passed by Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, held the record with 12 nominations.) Tracy died in of a heart attack in Hepburn’s home just a few weeks after shooting “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. “Adam’s Rib,” is based around a wife (Judy Holliday) who catches her philandering husband (Tom Ewell), and tries to kill him. Adam Bonner, (Tracy) is assigned to the case, which appears to be open-and-shut, but his wife Amanda (Hepburn) a noted defense lawyer decides to take the wife as her client, and the showdown is on. The trial between the two would become a circus, even at one point a strong women lifting Adam over her head, proving the women can be as strong as men, and not the weaker sex. Hepburn herself was exhibit A for the stronger sex in the film and in real life. The film is comedic froth, but incredibly funny froth. Cukor’s film uses everything from old-fashioned screen cards to convey information to home movies footage to even what at the time would have been the most updated special effects. Cukor was one of the first directors to use special effects particularly well for comedy. He also adored women, and Hepburn was probably more than anyone his muse, showcasing them in all his movies, more than any other director up to that point. Cukor's best film from the era, “The Philadelphia Story,” also a combination of Cukor and Hepburn, and there’s probably three or four other great film that’ll be entered into this canon of his later. A good director to equate with him now would be Pedro Almovodar for example. He's also considered the first great homosexual filmmaker, a fact then only known to those in Hollywood. The screenplay for “Adam’s Rib,” by husband & wife Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon earned an Oscar nomination, and the film today might not nearly be as relevant, but remember women didn’t start burning their bras until twenty years later. The script however is pretty fair to both sexes. Judy Holliday’s character, like many of her characters is almost as flawed as her husband for having stayed around him without killing him as long as she did. She would win an Oscar a couple years later in “Born Yesterday,” for playing an even less knowledgeable dingbat. (Also a Cukor film) Ewell's became most famous for Billy Wilder's "The Seven Year Itch" with Marilyn Monroe. The one odd male character outside of Tracy, who’s as passionate about the law as Amanda is about women’s right, who’s even remotely looked at in a positive light, is a homosexual friend of Amanda's, Kip (David Wayne), who after performing the Cole Porter-penned song "Farewell, Amanda", is oddly enough in love with her, trying to take her from Tracy. It’s the one odd piece in the movie that seems too unbelievable. In the movie, he’s a songwriter, and most believe the part was based on Porter. I think in real life, he was George Cukor.      
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