With the help of the New York Public Library and the DVD wing of Netflix, I have set out to try and watch every movie on the top 100 list of the American Film Institute. As with any venture, however, there are some side roads one takes on the road to the final destination. I was looking through the AFI top ten romantic comedies a few years ago and realized I have never seen Adam’s Rib. My wife and I loved the pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn so much that this summer I decided we ought to try out every move with the famous duo.
Tonight we watched Woman of the Year (1942) directed by George Stevens and starring Hepburn and Tracy. Having recently also finished Five Came Back on Netflix about the lives of five major directors who put their careers on hold to make propaganda films during World War II, I was eager to view this film as a lens into Stevens pre-war movie career.
The movie, the first to star Tracy and Hepburn together, starts the two off as rivals, but they quickly fall for each other in spite of their competitiveness. They fall quite quickly for one another for reasons not immediately clear to the audience. My wife and I were both confused at first as to why they were falling for one another. I suspended my disbelief for the sake of the story and their on-screen chemistry almost forced the romance with their long glances and intimate moments. Still yet, I had trouble following the motivations of the characters.
The writing itself was probably revolutionary for the time, but the story feels too much like an indictment of Hepburn’s character who wins “Woman of the Year” despite the fact that she does very little that would be stereotypically “female” for the time period. Without giving away too much of the plot in the review, Hepburn’s lack of “womanness” causes many problems in their marriage and her pursuit of what might later be called feminism often leaves Spencer in the dust. She looks down on Spencer’s sports column as small potatoes as compared to her important work (including humanitarian aid during World War II). She speaks multiple languages and is constantly being pulled away from Spencer in a kind of role reversal where the woman is a workaholic.
In a series of events, Hepburn finally “realizes” what she has with Spencer and there is a kind of rapprochement that feels dated when watched by a modern audience and a bit out of touch. By the end, I almost don’t want the two of them together and the story does not necessarily lead to a happily ever after (much is left up to the audience to decide for themselves).
Overall, the movie is a bit long and it drags in places. Some of the scenes feel cobbled together and the Spencer and Tracy really save the script with their good acting rather than the other way around. I was really rooting for the two characters, but almost in an abstract way because I love the idea of Hepburn and Tracy together. If I had to choose to watch any Spencer/Hepburn duo movie, I would still choose Adam’s Rib or State of the Union over this one. Still, I did enjoy some of the understated acting especially on the part of Spencer Tracy and I loved the idea behind Katherine Hepburn’s character. The role reversal was a clever idea, but perhaps needed a better writer or a cutting of some of the fat to make a truly great movie. This movie, in light of modern sexism and woman’s right movements, ought to be remade for a modern audience.