Saturday, September 5, 2015

1967: Katharine Hepburn for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

In her second Oscar winning performance, Katharine Hepburn plays an art gallery owner whose daughter comes home early from a trip to Hawaii and announces that she's getting married to a man she just met who is 14 years older than her and oh, by the way, is black. He's also played by Sidney Poitier, who is one of the most attractive human beings ever, which I think makes all three of those objections irrelevant, but back then the race difference was a huge deal. Hepburn's character is proud of her daughter and wants to support her, but her husband (played by Spencer Tracy) is afraid of all the problems she'll face if she marries outside her race.

I have to say a few words about the movie itself because, while it seems tame by today's standards, it was revolutionary in its day. Though the Supreme Court had officially legalized interracial marriage by the time the movie was released, when it was filmed interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states and was generally frowned upon by society. Though racism is still alive and well in this country, interracial marriage has become much more common and is now pretty much accepted. There are still people against it, but now it's those people who are generally frowned upon. So it's kind of nice to watch this movie and realize that, while we still have a ton of issues, at least some things have gotten better in the last 48 years. Anyway, back to Katharine Hepburn.

A lot has happened to Hepburn since her first, rather disappointing Oscar winning performance in 1933's Morning Glory. After being nominated once more for 1935's Alice Adams, the rest of the 1930s did not go well. She made several films that are now considered classics, but at the time were not well-received by critics or audiences. So at the end of the '30s, she left Hollywood for Broadway, where she starred in a play called The Philadelphia Story, which she bought the film rights for, and in 1940 turned into her comeback movie (which also happens to be my favorite movie of all time), and her third Oscar nominated performance. Soon afterward, she met Spencer Tracy, and starred opposite him in 1942's Woman of the Year. This not only earned her another Oscar nomination, but also, perhaps more importantly, marked the beginning of a decades-long partnership, both on and off the screen. Between that and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Hepburn earned 5 more Best Actress nominations in addition to starring in 7 other pictures with Tracy. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was their ninth and final film together, as Tracy died only a few weeks after filming had ended.

So while I love Katharine Hepburn and this movie, I'm not convinced that she actually deserved the Oscar. A significant portion of her performance involves watching Spencer Tracy with tears in her eyes. Though she could not have known for sure that she was watching his last performance, she had to have known that he wasn't doing well, so I don't think it took much acting to tear up, especially during his big speech at the end when he's talking about how much he loves her. The love of her life is in failing health and is standing there telling a room full of people that if his daughter and her fiance love each other half as much as he and Hepburn do, that's everything. It would have been incredible acting if she hadn't had tears in her eyes.

Still, I think Hepburn's performance in this movie is infinitely better than her last Oscar-winning one. Though most of it is very emotional, and I'm sure it's that aspect that won her the award, I prefer her more humorous scenes, such as her discussion with her daughter when they're trying to iron a shirt and the way she unceremoniously fires her racist assistant. She clearly has a lot more confidence than she did in 1933 and always seems to know exactly what she's doing. And, of course, she has excellent chemistry with Tracy, although again, that didn't take much acting. She's very convincing as Katharine Houghton's mother, but Houghton was actually her niece in real life, so that also probably didn't take much acting. It's a great performance that's fun to watch, but I think Oscar winning performances should be more of a challenge.

Hepburn is already looking kind of old in this movie, so it's rather surprising to watch it now knowing that not only would she live for another 36 years, but she would also go on to win two more Best Actress Oscars. The following year she became the first, and so far only, person to win a third Best Actress in a Leading Role Academy Award. It was also the first, and so far only, year that two actresses tied for this award. So my next post will either be another one about Kate, or it will be about Barbra Streisand, depending on which film I get around to watching first.

No comments:

Post a Comment