Sunday, December 30, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Director:     Stanley Kramer
Writer:        William Rose
Cast:          Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier

What happens when the daughter of a pair of wealthy Caucasians who was raised to be colorblind brings home a Black fiancee?  Guess Who's Coming to Dinner explores the undertones of race in the late Sixties.  

This is a particularly emotional film on many levels.  It's not just the racial tension of the situation, but Spencer Tracy's very ill.  The actors were working from two scripts:  one with Tracy and another without.  Both Kramer and Hepburn offered their salaries as collateral for Tracy finishing the film.  He died two days after filming was completed. Hepburn could never watch the film because it was too tied to her partner's death.

I'm generally not a fan of mostly dialogue films. I need some action and more scene changes than just a drive to the local ice cream shop, but even after many years, I hung on every word.  

I had to ask myself.  Have we improved?  What would happen today under the same circumstances.  

Yes, the situation has gotten somewhat better.  As of February 2012, interracial marriages accounted for one of every twelve marriages in the US.  Don't get me wrong, we need a lot more improvement.  

At the time of the film's conception, racial tensions were high in the US.  Mixed-race marriages were illegal in fourteen states. Just two days after Tracy's death, Chief Justice Earl Warren overturned these laws in the decision for Loving v. Virginia; however, Kramer kept a line in the film which says that mixed-race marriage was illegal. 

One line in the film refers to Reverend Martin Luther King.  Theaters were still showing Guess Who's Coming to Dinner  when Rev. King was assassinated in 1968. The studio contacted theaters and requested that they remove that line.  NOTE:  The version we saw of this film had the line intact.

The second lines that stunned me were as follows.  Note:  Drayton is Spencer Tracy's character and John is Poitier's. 

Drayton: Is that the way Joey feeIs? John: She feeIs that aLL of our children wllI be president of the United States...and they'LL aLL have colorfuI administrations. Well, you made her, Mr. Drayton. I just met her in HawallBut how do you feeI about that probIem? John: Well, frankIy, I think your daughter is a bit optimistic. l'd settIe for secretary of state.

Two bits of irony here.  Joey Drayton and John met in Hawaii seven years after President Barack Obama was born.  And they believe their child could be President.  I definitely smiled at that.  

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012

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