4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Katharine Hepburn Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Yesterday was the birthday of one of the most iconic screen legends of all time, the one and only Katharine Hepburn!  In honor of her life, career, and legacy, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Bringing Up Baby (1938, dir by Howard Hawks)

State of the Union (1948, dir by Frank Capra)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959, dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962, dir by Sidney Lumet)

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1930s


1937 Oscar Banquet

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1930s.

Frankenstein (1931, dir by James Whale)

Henry Frankenstein may have created life and revolutionized the horror genre but his creation got absolutely no love from the Academy.  Starting a very long history of snubbing successful horror films, the Academy failed to nominate Frankenstein for Best Picture.  Not even Boris Karloff got a nomination!  Fortunately, the public recognized what the Academy failed to see and Frankenstein remains a classic film.

Scarface (1932, dir by Howard Hawks)

Gangster films may have been all the rage with the public in the 1930s but the Academy felt different.  Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and Scarface may have excited audiences but none of them received much love from the Academy.  It was hard to decide which gangster film to specifically use for this post.  In the end, I went with Scarface because of George Raft and his sexy way with a coin.

King Kong (1933, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)

King Kong thrilled audiences, impressed critics, made a ton of money, and has gone on to influence just about every monster film made since.  It received zero Oscar nominations.

My Man Godfrey (1936, dir by Gregory La Cava)

My Man Godfrey, one of the best of the screwball comedies of the 1930s, received a total of 6 Oscar nominations.  It was nominated in all four of the acting categories.  It was nominated for best screenplay.  It was nominated for best director.  However, it was not nominated for Best Picture.  (My Man Godfrey is the first and, as of this writing, only film to receive four acting nominations without also receiving a nomination for best picture.)  Best Picture that year would go to The Great Ziegfield, which, like My Man Godfrey, starred William Powell.

Bringing Up Baby (1938, dir by Howard Hawks)

My Man Godfrey was not the only screwball comedy to be ignored by the Academy.  Bringing Up Baby features Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn at their best.  It also features an absolutely adorable leopard.  Somehow, it was not nominated for best picture.

The Women (1939, dir by George Cukor)

The competition was fierce in 1939.  If you want to know why 1939 is considered to be one of the best years in Academy History, just consider the ten films that actually were nominated for best picture: Dark Victory, Gone With The Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, and Wuthering Heights.  Amazingly, even with that list of nominees, some equally good film went unnominated.  One of those films was The Women.

Based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play, The Women features a witty script, assured direction from George Cukor, and an amazing talented, all-female ensemble cast.  Though the competition was undeniably fierce in 1939, it’s still a shock that this film received not a single nomination.

Up next, in about an hour or so, the 1940s!

Scarface (1932)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: On Golden Pond (dir by Mark Rydell)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1981 best picture nominee, On Golden Pond!)

On Golden Pond takes place in a cottage that’s located on a lake called Golden Pond.  Hence, the title.  As far as title’s go, it’s not a bad one.  It’s a film about an elderly couple who spends every summer in that cottage.  They’re in their golden years so I guess it makes sense that they would feel an affinity for Golden Pond.

That said, I think that an even better title for the film would be Everything Annoys Norman.

Norman Thayer, Jr. (Henry Fonda) is a cantankerous old man.  He’s 79 and not particularly looking forward to celebrating his 80th birthday.  He’s a retired college professor.  His wife claims that the last time Norma was really happy was when Franklin Roosevelt was elected president.  Norman likes to fish and still brags about the time he caught a legendary trout named Walter.

What Norman doesn’t like is having to deal with the world.  When he stops to get gas, he loudly complains that, “in his day,” gas only cost eighty-five cents.  When he’s told that there’s another “middle-aged” couple on the lake, he says that, unless he’s going to live to be 150, he’s not middle-aged.  He gets frustrated because his memory isn’t as good as it used to be.  When he goes out for a walk in the woods, he forgets where the path is and he has to return to the house.  Sometimes, he calls people by the wrong name.  At one point, he struggles to use a landline phone.  (I can only imagine how annoyed Norman would be if he was alive today.)  Norman doesn’t like to deal with anyone other than his wife.

Ethel (Katharine Hepburn) is Norman’s wife.  She loves him.  When she hears Norman referred to as being “a son of a bitch,” she replies, “That son of a bitch is my husband.”  Ethel is used to Norman and his ways.  As she puts it, she understands that he’s like a “lion” who has to roar just to remind himself that he still can.  Ethel is … well, basically, she’s Katharine Hepburn.

Ethel has invited their daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), to celebrate Norman’s birthday with them.  Norman and Chelsea have a strained relationship.  It’s implied that Norman was an emotionally distant and overly critical father and that Chelsea has never been able to forgive him.  When she shows up with her new boyfriend, Bill Ray (Dabney Coleman) and his 13 year-old son, Billy Ray (Doug McKeon), Norman barely bothers to acknowledge her.  With Bill and Chelsea planning on vacation in Europe, they ask if Billy can stay at the cottage with Norman and Ethel.  Ethel agrees.  Norman acquiesces.

On Golden Pond is a film that I wanted to like more than I actually did.  After all, the film features two classic actors, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, appearing in their only film together.  (Both Henry Fonda and Hepburn won Oscars for their work here.)  Henry Fonda gives a good performance as a strong-willed man who is struggling to deal with his own mortality.  As for Hepburn, it’s not a great performance, largely because Ethel is a thinly written role, but she’s Katharine Hepburn so it doesn’t matter.  But almost everything about the film — from the tasteful music to the pretty but not overwhelming cinematography — feels more like something you’d expect to find in a television production instead of a feature film.  On Golden Pond was based on a play and, with almost all of the action set in that cottage, it really doesn’t escape its theatrical origins.  That said, it’s a sweet movie.  The love between Norman and Ethel feels real.  If nothing else, the film gave the great Henry Fonda his only Oscar.

On Golden Pond was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Chariots of Fire.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Lion in Winter (dir by Anthony Harvey)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1968 best picture nominee, The Lion in Winter!)

“I don’t much like our children.”

— Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn)

“Oh God, but I do love being king.”

— King Henry II (Peter O’Toole)

“What family doesn’t have its up and down?”

— Eleanor of Aquitaine

To be honest, it’s tempting to just spend this entire review offering up quotes from this film.  Based on a play by James Goldman and featuring a cast of actors who all specialized in delivering the most snarky of lines with style, The Lion In Winter is a film that is in love with the English language.  As visually impressive as the film and its recreation of the 12th Century is, it’s tempting to close your eyes while watching The Lion In Winter and just listen to the dialogue.

The year is 1183.  England has a king.  His name is Henry II (Peter O’Toole) and he’s held power for a long time, through a combination of willpower and political manipulation.  He’s married to Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), though he long since had her imprisoned.  Before marrying Henry, Eleanor was the wife of Louis VII.  Now, Henry’s mistress is Alais (Jane Merrow), the daughter of Louis and his second wife.  In order to get Alais’s dowry, Henry has promised her half-brother, Philip II (Timothy Dalton), that she will be married to the next king of England.  Philip, incidentally, is the son of Louis’s third wife.  To be honest, it’s confusing as Hell to try to keep up with all of it but that’s medieval politics for you.

Of course, everyone knows that Henry II will not be king forever.  He’s already 50 years old, which is quite an advanced age for 1183.  Being king means that everyone, even his own family, is plotting against him.  It also means living in a remarkably dirty and drafty castle.  (If you’re looking for a film that celebrates the splendor of royalty, this is probably not the film to watch.)  Henry has three sons, all of whom feel that he should be the rightful heir.

For instance, there’s Richard (a young Anthony Hopkins).  Richard is Henry and Eleanor’s eldest son.  He is a fierce, outspoken, and judgemental man.  He describes himself as being a legend and a poet.  He looks and acts like a future king.  Of course, he’s also a bit of a pompous ass.  Richard is Eleanor’s pick to be king, though Richard is always quick to equally condemn both of his parents.

And then there’s John (Nigel Terry).  Early on, John is described as being “pimply and smelling of compost.”  For some reason, John is Henry’s favorite.  He’s also a sniveling weakling, the type who is never smart enough to know when his father is being honest or when his father is bluffing.  Halfway through the film, he comes close to accidentally starting a civil war.

And finally, there’s Geoffrey (John Castle).  Geoffrey is the smartest of the princes and the most manipulative.  Of the three princes, he’s the only one who is as smart as both Henry and Eleanor.  However, whereas Henry and Eleanor enjoy their complicated lives and manage to maintain a sense of (very dark) humor about it all, Geoffrey is bitter about his place as the middle child.

Christmas has arrived and Henry has temporarily released Eleanor from prison so that she can spend the holidays with him, his sons, and his mistress.  Also coming over for the holiday is King Phillip II, eager to either take back his sister’s dowry or to attend her wedding to the next King of England.  What follows is a holiday of politics, manipulation, and shouting.  In fact, there’s lots and lots of shouting.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable film, one that expertly mixes British history with domestic drama and dark comedy.  Obviously, the film’s main appeal comes from watching two screen icons, Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, exchanging snappy dialogue.  Hepburn deservedly won an Oscar for her performance as Eleanor.  O’Toole should have won an Oscar as well but he lost to Cliff Robertson for Charly.  In fact, O’Toole and Hepburn are so good that they occasionally overshadow the rest of the very talented cast.  Anthony Hopkins and Nigel Terry both make indelible impressions as Richard and John but my favorite princely performance came from John Castle, who is a malicious wonder as Geoffrey.  As easy as it is to dislike Geoffrey, it’s hard not to feel that he does have a point.

(Of course, in real life, both Richard and John would eventually serve as king while Geoffrey would die, under mysterious circumstances, in France.  Reportedly, Philip II was so distraught over Geoffrey’s death that he attempted to jump on the coffin as it was being lowered into the ground.)

The Lion In Winter was nominated for seven Oscars and won three, for Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Best Adapted Screenplay (James Goldman), and Best Music Score (John Barry).  It lost best picture to Oliver!

Cleaning Out The DVR #35: Stage Door (dir by Gregory La Cava)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of today!!!!!  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

Stage_Door_(1937)

The 1937 film Stage Door is a great example of a unique genre of American film, the Katharine Hepburn Gets Humbled genre.

In the 1930s, Katharine Hepburn went through a period of time where she was considered to be “box office poison.”  She was undeniably talented but it was obvious that the studios weren’t sure how to showcase that talent.  They put her in high-brow films that often did not have much appeal to audiences.  As well, the press hated her.  Katharine Hepburn was outspoken, she was confident, she was a nonconformist, and, too many, her refusal to do interviews and sign autographs marked her as a snob.  Very few people wanted to see a movie starring Katharine Hepburn and therefore, very few people were willing to make a movie starring Katharine Hepburn.

(Interestingly enough, as I sit here typing this, another KH — Katharine Heigl — is pretty much in the exact same situation, with the main difference being that Hepburn was a far more interesting actress.)

Fortunately, Katharine Hepburn was smart enough to recognize the problem and she started to appear in films like Stage Door.  In Stage Door, she essentially played a character who mirrored the public’s perception of her.  Terry Randall is a snobbish and pretentious aspiring actress who comes to New York to pursue her career and moves into a theatrical rooming house.  At first, her attitude makes her unpopular with the other actresses living in the house.  But, as the film progresses, Terry slowly starts to let down her defenses and reveals that she’s just as insecure, neurotic, and vulnerable as everyone else.  She also proves herself to be willing to stand up to manipulative producers and condescending directors.  When she’s cast in her first Broadway show, it turns out that the show is being financed by her father and his hope is that she’ll do such a bad job and be so humiliated that she’ll give up acting.  And, at first, it appears that Terry will be terrible.  During rehearsals, she is stiff and mannered.  (Hepburn was actually quite brave to portray Terry as being such a believably bad actress.)

Of course, Terry isn’t the only actress at the rooming house who has issues to deal with.  For instance, Judy Canfield (Lucille Ball) has to choose between pursuing her career or getting married and starting a family.  Kay (Andrea Leeds) is a once successful actress who is now struggling to find roles, can’t pay her bills, and has become suicidal as a result.  And then there’s Jean (Ginger Rogers), Terry’s cynical roommate and frequent enemy and occasional friend.  Jean is falling in love with Anthony Powell (Adolphe Menjou), the lecherous producer of Terry’s play.

Stage Door is a wonderfully entertaining mix of melodrama and comedy.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll really find yourself hoping that all of the actresses at the rooming house will have their dreams come true.  While the film is dominated by Hepburn and Rogers, it truly is an ensemble piece.  Not only does the cast include Eve Arden, Lucille Ball and Andrea Leeds (giving the film’s best and most poignant performance) but the great dancer Ann Miller appears as Jean’s equally cynical best friend.  Stage Door may be 79 years old but it’s aged wonderfully.

At the box office, Stage Door was a modest success and it directly led to Hepburn being cast in the classic screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby.  Stage Door was nominated for best picture but it lost to The Life of Emile Zola.

Cleaning Out The DVR #26: Little Women (dir by George Cukor)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

Little_Women_1933_poster

Based on the beloved classic by Louisa May Alcott, the 1933 film Little Women tells the story of the March sisters.  Growing up in Concord, Massachusetts during the Civil War, they wait — with their mother, Marmee (Spring Byington) — for their father to return from serving as a chaplain in the Union Army.  There are four sisters.  The oldest, Meg (Frances Dee) is a responsible and practical (which is a nice way of saying that someone is boring) seamstress.  The youngest, Beth (Joan Bennett) is beautiful but selfish.  Meanwhile, saintly Beth (Jean Parker) spends her time playing a severely out-of-tune piano.

And then there’s Jo (Katharine Hepburn).  Jo is just a year younger than Meg and … well, basically, she’s Katharine Hepburn.  She’s an independent-minded intellectual who dreams of being a writer and who isn’t interested in conforming to society’s expectations.  She’s head-strong and occasionally, she’s too stubborn for her own good.  But she’s also kind-hearted and loves her sisters, even if she does sometimes disagree with them.  We follow Jo as she rejects one potential suitor, poor earnest Laurie (Douglass Montgomery) and discovers another when she meets the older Prof. Behar (Paul Lukas).  We also watch as a family tragedy brings her and her sisters back together.

In fact, Katharine Hepburn is so perfect as Jo that it throws the rest of this adaptation out of balance.  So totally does Hepburn dominate this film that it’s hard not to feel that the other March sisters end up getting a short shrift.  To a certain extent, it does make sense.  Jo is the lead character and the story is largely told through her point of view.  But, for someone who enjoyed reading Alcott’s novel, it’s hard not to be disappointed.  I mean, Jo is great but some of us may have related more to one of the other March sisters.  Like Beth, for instance.

Another problem with this version of Little Women is that the March sisters are all supposed to be teenagers and yet, they’re played by actresses who were in their 20s.  For instance, 23 year-old Joan Bennett played Amy, who is supposed to be only 12 years old when we first see her.  By casting actresses who were already clearly adults, it makes t difficult for the film to work as a coming-of-age story.

(Personally, my favorite version of Little Women — and the first one that I ever saw — was the 1994 version that starred Winona Ryder as Jo.  Even though Ryder was clearly the film’s star, the other three March sisters were all given time to make an impression as well and, as a result, they felt like a real family.  Speaking as the youngest of four sisters, there was a lot about that movie to which I could relate.  Add to that, Christian Bale made for a far more interesting Laurie than Douglass Montgomery.)

With all that said, it bears repeating that Katharine Hepburn is absolutely perfect as Jo and, if you’re a Hepburn fan (and who isn’t), this is one of her essential films.  It helps that she was directed by George Cukor, the director who was responsible for some of Hepburn’s best performances.  The rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to Hepburn’s performance but she was such a great talent that it almost doesn’t matter.

Little Women was nominated for best picture.  However, it lost to Cavalcade.

Shattered Politics #9: State of the Union (dir by Frank Capra)


Sotu1948

“Politicians have remained professionals only because the voters have remained amateurs!” — State of the Union (1948)

Does anyone remember the Americans Elect fiasco of 2012?

Americans Elect was an organization set up by a bunch of businesspeople, attorneys, and out-of-office politicians.  Their stated goal was to challenge the political establishment, shake up the two-party system, and elect a president.  The idea was that the party would hold a nationwide primary.  Any registered U.S. voter could go online and cast their vote on what they thought should be in the party’s platform and who they thought should be the Americans Elect presidential candidate.  Whoever won this nationwide primary would be required to 1) run on the platform and 2) pick a vice presidential candidate from the opposite party.

And all would be right with the world, right?

Right.

Anyway, I did register as an American Elect delegate, just because I was curious to see who was getting votes in the nationwide primary and who wasn’t.  (And yes, I did cast a vote.  I voted for Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia.)  Looking over the site, I saw that all of the usual suspects were getting votes — Ron Paul, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Donald Trump, and even Barack Obama.  None of the big vote getters were exactly nonpartisan or independent figures.  With the possible exception of Ron Paul, all of them were members of the very establishment that Americans Elect was claiming to challenge.

Anyway, Americans Elect ended up nominating no one for President and, as we all know, the 2012 election came down to choosing between two candidates who both received money from the same millionaires and, in the end, the status quo was upheld.

To be honest, everyone should have realized that Americans Elect was a sham as soon as the New York Times printed a column praising the effort.  Any truly independent political organization would never be praised by the New York Times.  Instead, like most so-called independent political organizations, Americans Elect was just a case of certain members of the establishment slumming.

So, the lesson of American Elect would seem to be that any attempt to run outside of the mainstream will, in the end, simply lead you back to the mainstream.  That was an expensive lesson for all of the volunteers who devoted their time to getting Americans Elect on the ballot in 28 states.  It was a lesson that they could have learned much more easily by watching the 1948 film, State of the Union.

In State of the Union, newspaper publisher Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury) wants to make her lover, Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy), President of the United States.  Grant is a no-nonsense, plain-spoken businessman who is quick to explain that he loves and cares about his country but that he hates partisan politics.  (In many ways, it’s impossible not to compare Grant to … well, to just about every single wealthy businessman who has ever run for public office while claiming to essentially be nonpolitical.  The big difference is that Grant actually means it.)  However, by subtly appealing to both his ego and his patriotism, Kay convinces Grant to run.  With the help of sleazy Jim Conover (Adolphe Menjou) and the sardonic Spike McManus (Van Johnson), Kay uses her money and her newspapers to turn Grant into a viable candidate.

The only problem is that Grant is separated from his wife Mary (Katharine Hepburn) and, since this movie was made in the 1940s, everyone knows that Grant has to be seen as being a family man if he’s going to be elected.  For the election, Mary and Grant pretend to be happily married.

As the primary season continues, Grant finds himself being more and more manipulated by Kay and Jim.  Eventually, Grant is forced to make a decision between his campaign and his integrity…

Following Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Meet John Doe, State of the Union was the third part of director Frank Capra’s political trilogy.  Based on a play (which, itself, was supposedly inspired by the 1940 Republican presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie), State of the Union never quite escapes its stage-bound origins.  Add to that, the film was probably a bit more shocking when it was first released in 1948.  In 2015, we’re used to idea of politicians being controlled by money.  But, in 1948, audiences were perhaps a little bit more innocent.

But, that said, State of the Union is still an entertaining film.  Needless to say, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn have a wonderful chemistry together and Hepburn gets a great drunk scene.  (Hepburn had such an aristocratic presence that it’s always fun to watch her do comedy.)  Angela Lansbury also does well, playing a character who could very well grow up to be the role she played in The Manchurian Candidate.

67 years after it was first released, State of the Union remains an entertaining film that makes some good and still relevant points.  In 2016, when you’re tempted to get involved with the latest version of Americans Elect, watch State of the Union instead.

Lisa Reviews The Oscar Nominees: The Philadelphia Story (dir by George Cukor)


The-Philadelphia-Story-(1940)

There are a few reasons why The Philadelphia Story was one of those films that I had been meaning to watch for a while.  For one thing, The Philadelphia Story was nominated for best picture of 1940 (it lost to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca) and my ultimate goal is to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture.  The other reason is that Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for his performance in The Philadelphia Story and anyone who doesn’t love Jimmy Stewart has obviously never seen Anatomy of a Murder (not to mention It’s a Wonderful Life!).

Well, The Philadelphia Story was on TCM last night and I finally got to see it and what can I say?  I absolutely loved it.  For a 74 year-old, black-and-white comedy, The Philadelphia Story is still a lot of fun.

The Philadelphia Story tells the story of Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), a wealthy socialite who is engaged to marry George Kitteridge (John Howard), a self-described “man of the people,” who is widely respect for both his strong moral character and the fact that — unlike most of Tracy’s friends — he made his fortune as opposed to inheriting it.

It would be tempting to reach into the bag of simplistic blogging clichés and call the Lords a 1940s version of Khardashians but I’m not going to do that because the Lords have a lot more wit and class.  My favorite member of Tracy’s family was Dinah (Virginia Wiedler), her teenage sister who is sarcastic, cheerfully cynical, and has no problem demanding to be the center of attention.  My sister Erin claims that the reason I liked Dinah is because I saw a lot of myself in the character and that’s probably true.  However, I have to say that the great thing about both Tracy and Dinah is that they were both wittier, classier, and better dressers than all of the Khardashians and Jenners combined.

Anyway, the evil editor of Spy Magazine, Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell), wants to get pictures of Tracy’s very exclusive and very private wedding so he sends two of his reporters in under cover.  Mike Connor (James Stewart) is a frustrated writer who hates having to lower himself to writing for a tabloid.  Photographer Liz (Ruth Hussey) is secretly in love with Mike.  Helping Mike and Liz pass themselves off as friends of the family is Tracy’s ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant).

As quickly becomes obvious, Dexter is still in love with Tracy.  However, Tracy divorced Dexter because Dexter was an irresponsible alcoholic and, even though Dexter has changed his ways and she is still obviously attracted to him, Tracy is now engaged to the morally upright but boring and judgmental George.

However, Tracy is not just torn between George and Dexter.  She is attracted to Mike as well, to the extent that Tracy even takes the trouble to read some of Mike’s short stories.  For only the second time in her life, Tracy gets drunk and goes for a midnight swim with Mike.  This, of course, leads to the best scene in The Philadelphia Story: Jimmy Stewart singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

Seriously, the scene made my entire night.

The Philadelphia Story is based on a play and the film itself is rather stagey in that way that films from the 40s often appear to be to modern viewers.  But, once you get used to the fact that the movie was made in 1940 and not 2014, it’s a real delight.  The dialogue is funny and it’s delivered by one of the best casts ever.  Playing a role that was specifically written for her, Katherine Hepburn is brilliant as the strong-willed but unapologetically romantic Tracy and Cary Grant is just as charming as you would expect Cary Grant to be.  Best of all, you’ve got Jimmy Stewart singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and seriously, how can you not love that?

Film Review: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (directed by Stanley Kramer)


Sometimes, you just had to be there.

That was my reaction as I watched the 1967 Best Picture nominee Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.  While this film may have been topical and even controversial when it was first released, when watched today it seems to be rather mild and tame.

In Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Spencer Tracy plays Matt Drayton.  Matt’s a San Francisco newspaper publisher, a respected member of the upper class establishment.  His wife, Christina (Katharine Hepburn), owns a trendy art gallery and Matt spends his spare time playing golf with Monsignor Ryan (Cecil Kellaway).  He’s the father of the free-spirited Joey (Katharine Houghton, who was Hepburn’s niece in real life).  He’s also, as we’re told repeatedly by every other character in the film, a liberal who supports the civil rights movement.

As the film begins, Joey is returning from a vacation in Hawaii and she has big news.  While in Hawaii, she met and fell in love with the widowed John Prentice, a highly succesful doctor who is literally on the verge of winning a Nobel Peace Prize.  Though he’s 16 years older than her and they’ve only known each other for 10 days, Joey and Prentice are planning on getting married.  While Joey thinks that she’s bringing Prentice to San Francisco just so her parents can meet their future son-in-law, Prentice has specifically come to ask Matt’s permission to marry Joey.  As Prentice explains to Matt, he’ll call the marriage off if Matt doesn’t approve.

John Prentice, by the way, is played by Sidney Poitier and that is the source of the film’s conflict.  Will Matt give his daughter permission to marry a polite, considerate, wealthy, saintly, world-renowned doctor despite the fact that he happens to be black?

Watching Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was a bit of a culture shock to me, both because I’m the result of an interracial marriage myself (my mom was Spanish and my dad’s white) and because several of my friends are either in or have been a part of an interracial relationship or marriage.  For people my age, it’s not a big deal.  We take it for granted that if you find someone to be attractive, you can have a relationship with him regardless of whatever race he may happen to be.

While I was doing research on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, I was reminded that this wasn’t always the case.  When Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was first released in 1967, interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states.  In that same year, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk offered to resign when his daughter married a black man.  When Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was first released, interracial marriage still a controversial subject and when Spencer Tracy struggled with his feelings about it, he stood in for countless Americans who, though they may  have taken pride in how tolerant they were, still weren’t sure what they would do if a black man tried to join their family.

As you can probably guess, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is far more interested in teaching a lesson than telling a story.  It’s perhaps not surprising that the film was directed and produced by Stanley Kramer.  Kramer was one of the most prominent filmmakers of the 1960s.  He specialized in making big films that dealt with big issues, the type of films that were regularly nominated for an academy award but rarely honored with an actual win.  In many ways, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is a prototypical Kramer picture — its heart is in the right place but the film itself is so conventional and free of ambiguity that it never manages to truly challenge the status quo that it claims to be criticizing.*

In his excellent look at the 1967 nominees for best picture, Pictures At A Revolution: Five Movies And The Birth of The New Hollywood, Mark Harris provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the filming of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.  Harris quotes Kramer as explaining that the character of John Prentice had to be perfect because, if the character had any flaws, then bigots in the audience would have seized on those flaws as the reason why Prentice and Joey should not be allowed to marry.  As Kramer explains it, the entire film was set up to make it clear that the only possible reason that Matt could have to object to Prentice would be the color of his skin.

To an extent, I can see Kramer’s point (and again, it’s hard to judge what was necessary to make a point in 1967 from the perspective of 2013) but, as I watched Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, it was hard not to feel that the main problem with the film was that Prentice was just too perfect.  Certainly, he was too perfect to be in love with Joey who, as played by Houghton, simply seemed to be too naive and foolish to be a good match for a man who is on the verge of winning a Nobel Prize.  Even more importantly, it’s hard to escape the fact that this accomplished, confident black man still needs to get the permission of a well-meaning white liberal before he can marry the woman he claims to love.

Ultimately, despite the film’s noble intentions, it feels more than a bit condescending.  At no point is Prentice allowed to show any anger or frustration at having to prove himself.  There’s even a scene where Prentice criticizes his own father for being too hung up on racism.  “Not until you and you’re whole lousy generation lay down and die will the weight of you be off our backs … You think of yourself as a colored man … I think of myself as a man!” Prentice tells him, as if his success was due to ignoring racism as opposed to defying it.

If Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner has dated badly as a look at race relations in the United States, it remains watchable because of the performances of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  This was their 9th and final film together and the love that these two accomplished actors felt for each other shines through every scene.  Tracy was seriously ill while making the film (and died before it was released) but he gave one of his best and most heartfelt performances here.  He was nominated for a posthumous Oscar but lost to Rod Steiger, who co-starred with Poitier in the film that beat Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner for best picture, In The Heat of the Night.

In the Heat of the Night is best-remembered for the scene in which Poitier angrily declares, “They call me …. MISTER TIBBS!”  This line epitomized the righteous anger that he was not allowed to display in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.  If only Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner had its own “MISTER TIBBS” moment, it might be remembered as something other than a film that seems curiously out-of-place as a nominee for best picture.

* That said, Kramer’s post-Guess films were actually pretty interesting and a bit more daring.  Some day, I’ll have to get around to reviewing his 1970 campus unrest film, R.P.M.

Poll: Tell Lisa Marie What To Watch Next Sunday


So, guess what I did earlier today?  That’s right — I put on a blindfold, a stumbled over to my ever-growing DVD, Blu-ray. and even VHS collection and I randomly selected 12 films!

Why did I do this?

I did it so you, the beloved readers of Through the Shattered Lens, could once again have a chance to tell me what to do.  At the end of this post, you’ll find a poll.  Hopefully, between now and next Sunday (that’s August 21st), a few of you will take the time to vote for which of these 12 films I should watch and review.  I will then watch the winner on Sunday and post my review on Monday night.  In short, I’m putting the power to dominate in your hands.  Just remember: with great power comes great … well, you know how it goes.

Here are the 12 films that I randomly selected this afternoon:

Abduction From 1975, this soft-core grindhouse film is based on the real-life abduction of Patty Hearst and was made while Hearst was still missing.  Supposedly, the FBI ended up investigating director Joseph Zito to make sure he wasn’t involved in the actual kidnapping.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God From director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski comes this story about a Spanish conquistador who fights a losing battle against the Amazon.

Black Caesar In one of the most succesful of the 70s blaxploitation films, Fred Williamson takes over the Harlem drug trade and battles the mafia.

Don’t Look Now Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are a married couple who attempt to deal with the death of their daughter by going to Venice, Italy.  Christie quickly falls in with two blind psychics while Sutherland pursues a ghostly figure in a red raincoat through Venice.  Directed by Nicolas Roeg.

The Lion In Winter From 1968, this best picture nominee stars Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn as King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Taking place on Christmas Eve, Henry and Eleanor debate which one of their useless sons will take over a king of England.  This film is also the feature debut of both Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.

Logan’s Run — From 1976, this sci-fi film features Michael York and Jenny Agutter as two future hedonists seeking Sanctuary and instead finding Peter Ustinov and a bunch of cats.  Filmed in my hometown of Dallas.

Lost Highway — From director David Lynch comes this 1997 film about … well, who knows for sure what it’s about?  Bill Pullman may or may not have killed Patricia Arquette and he may or may not end up changing into Balthazar Getty.

Mystic River — From director Clint Eastwood comes this film about murder, guilt, redemption, and suspicion in working-class Boston.  Starring Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins.

Naked Massacre — From 1976, this stark film is something a grindhouse art film.  It takes the true life story of Chicago mass murderer Richard Speck and transfers the action to Belfast.  Also known as Born for Hell.

Night of the Creeps — From 1986, this film features alien slugs that turn an entire college campus into a breeding ground for frat boy zombies.  Tom Atkins gets to deliver the classic line: “Well don’t go out there…”

PetuliaConsidered by many to be one of the best American films ever made and one of the definitive films of the 60s, Petulia tells the story of a divorced doctor (George C. Scott) who enters into an odd relationship with Julie Christie.  Directed by Richard Lester, this film also stars Joseph Cotten, Richard Chamberlain, and the Grateful Dead.

What Have You Done To Solange? — From 1975, What Have You Done To Solange is a classic giallo that  features dream-like murders, disturbing subtext, and one of the best musical scores of all time.

So, there’s your 12 films.  Vote once, vote often, have fun, and I await your decision.

Voting will be open until Sunday, August 21st.