Adam's Rib (1949)
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Judy Holiday, Jean Hagen, Tom Ewell, and David Wayne
Directed by: George Cukor
Released by: MGM
Synopsis: A woman (Judy Holiday) is put on trial for trying shooting her husband by accident. She is represented by defense attorney Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn). Much to their surprise, the prosecutor and the husband's attorney is Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy), Amanda's husband! Can marriage sustain the pressures of court?
Review: One of my pet peeves with most romantic comedies (especially "battle of the sexes" comedies) is that they tend to focus on either the male or female character, often created an unfair, one sided story where one side makes the other look bad. This tends to alienate the audience since they feel that the movie was not made for them. I am happy to say that Adam's Rib successfully avoids this problem and provides us with an enjoyable romantic story that everyone should be delighted by.
Stories about power couples weren't original by the time Adam's Rib was released. But, the idea of a couple being rivals in a court of justice and trying to defend their causes is stupendous and very clever. What makes it great, though, is that it never takes itself too seriously and handles its subject very well. The chemistry between Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn aids the plot immensely. You can tell that they love each other, even when they courtroom battle gets heated towards its conclusion. There is passion and never do they feel like they are acting selfishly. Both of them have great ideals about the case and try their best to convey it in court.
And that's where the fairness comes in. Adam's Rib talks strongly about fairness towards the opposite sex and to judge people based on their actions and not by their gender. But Adam's plight is honorable too: that no one should be given the right to take justice into their hands. At times it may look like the film favors Amanda over Adam, but in reality the writers did a great job in presenting both ideas, letting the viewer decide which one is the fairest.
Like many pictures of its era, Adam's Rib has a great stage feel regardless of its motion picture existence. Everything from the opening titles to the scenes in the Bonner's apartment is presented to resemble a stage production. This is even carried to the supporting characters, all Broadway performers who make their film debut in Adam's Rib. The first of these is Judy Holiday, playing the role of Doris Attinger, the woman put on trial. From the minute you see her you know that deep down she isn't a bad woman, just an overworked wife driven to desperation by her uncaring husband. You realize why Amanda is so set on defending this woman: Judy Holiday gives us an earnest character that is easy to cheer for. As an interesting piece of history, this role was given to her as an opportunity to star in the film adaptation of Born Yesterday. Her success in this film earned her both the role and an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Jean Hagen (best known for her performance as Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain) has great presence as Beryl Caighn, the other woman in the relationship. Unfortunately, we don't get to see her as much as the other characters, and her lines are limited, but in the scenes she is in she's funny and memorable at the very least. Faring much better is Tom Ewell as Warren Francis Attinger the ungrateful husband. He may be a stereotypical character, but helps the audience understand why the relationship between him and his wife is so twisted. Last but not least is David Wayne as Kip Lurie, the Bonner's friend and neighbor. I confess that while he does deliver some great lines he tends to get obnoxious at times (funny enough, Spencer Tracy's character expresses many of our feelings when Kip is on screen). But, his character is needed in making the tension between Adam and Amanda that more relevant to the storyline, so love him or hate him, he is an important character.
Like many movies, accuracy is at times sacrificed for the sake of entertainment, and Adam's Rib is no different. The film doesn't present us with an accurate look at court procedures. I am sure that those paying attention will see some mistakes in the lawyers' claims. It doesn't hurt the enjoyment of the film, but some might take notice of it. The other problem with Adam's Rib is that to me the ending was a bit rushed and didn't quite know how to end the story. I may be mistaken in this regard, but it didn't feel as tight as the rest of the film.
In closing, Adam's Rib proves that a solid romantic comedy can be appealing to both men and women. It doesn't hold back in its ideals but rarely does it feel heavy handed. The chemistry between Hepburn and Tracy is a great asset to the film, while the supporting characters round out the great cast. Adam's Rib is funny, charming and enjoyable. This one shouldn't be missed.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5
This review is dedicated to Mike Lockhardt Jr. and Anita Asher in honor of their recent engagement. Congratulations! May this union be blessed with lots of love and happiness!