Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are arguably one of the all time great screen couples
Keeper of the Flame 1942 Adapted from the novel by I.A.R. Wylie. Directed by George Cukor. When national hero Robert Forrest dies in a car accident, journalist Stephen O’Malley (Tracy) commits to writing the dead man’s biography. For this, he needs the cooperation of Forrest’s widow, Christine. Initially, sneaked into the house, O’Malley gradually gains her trust, but protecting Forrest’s reputation, O’Malley senses Christine is hiding something pivotal. She is. Separate forces want it hidden or revealed. Violence and death ensue.
Republican members of Congress protested that the film showcased leftist politics, equating wealth with fascism. Cukor was not happy with results. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Woman of the Year 1942 Directed by George Stevens. So much for the Women’s Movement. Woman of the Year was the first of nine films Hepburn and Tracy made together. They met for the first time on the shoot. Rent on Amazon Prime. Read description in my article: Films of the Great Katharine Hepburn
Without Love 1945 Based on the play by Philip Barry. Directed by Harold Bucquet. Well heeled widow Jamie Rowan (Hepburn) takes military research scientist Patrick Jamieson (Tracy) into her Washington, D.C. home to help the war effort. She’s had a memorable marriage, while his experience with women was terrible.
Jamie is fascinated by and gets integrally involved with Patrick’s work. They appreciate each other and decide to marry as platonic companions…which, of course, can’t last. With Lucille Ball. Barry wrote the part expressly for Hepburn as he had Philadelphia Story. Rent on Amazon Prime.
State of the Union 1948 Based on an update of the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Russell Crouse/Howard Lindsay. Directed by Frank Capra. Ambitious newspaper magnate, Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury), intends to make her lover, Grant Matthews (Tracy), president despite his reticence, and to control him thereafter with a well honed, Republican machine. Believing him idealistic and honest, Grant’s ex-wife Mary (Hepburn) agrees to publicly support him during the campaign.
Though Kay steps back from the relationship, she works behind the scenes insidiously seducing Grant into compromised policies. When Mary discovers the extent to which he’s being controlled, she refuses to participate in a broadcast and almost exits the campaign. Instead, taking a risk, she helps him realize what’s going on. During filming, Adolphe Menjou testified as a friendly witness before the HUAC. Hepburn was barely civil on set. With Van Johnson. Rent on Netflix.
Adam’s Rib 1949 Directed by George Cukor. Married lawyers, Amanda (Hepburn) and Adam Bonner (Tracy), have a terrific relationship until they disagree about a headline case. Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday- great) shot at her unfaithful husband (Tom Ewell) and his lover, hitting him in the shoulder. Adam thinks there’s no excuse for Doris’ action and calls the case attempted murder. Amanda, angry at the double standard applied to infidelity, sympathizes with Doris and takes her case. Home alternately becomes battlefield and cold war.
In order to prove his point, Adam pulls a stunt that frightens and infuriates Amanda. Divorce proceedings are aborted by his uncharacteristically emotional reaction to their selling a farm. There’s a twist in the last conversation. The script is extremely clever, court room scenes wonderful. Hepburn and co-writer Garson Kanin (with Ruth Gordon) pushed for Holliday to take the role which turned into an audition for Born Yesterday. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Pat & Mike 1952 Directed by George Cukor. Pat (Hepburn) is a high tone, no nonsense phys-ed instructor and outstanding athlete in a number of sports. Mike (Tracy) is savvy promoter who serendipitously gets a glimpse of her abilities and knows a cash cow when he sees one. He becomes her manager, laying down training laws against which she rebels but to which she acquiesces when one competition after another is handily won.
The single issue is that whenever Pat’s fiancé, Collier West, comes to cheer her on, she feels his judgmental gaze and loses. As Pat and Mike grow closer…Opposite personalities are entirely believable. Tracy’s throwaway naturalism shines. Fun. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Desk Set 1957 Adapted from the play by William Marchant. Directed by Walter Lang. Bunny Watson (Hepburn) is in charge of the reference library at the Federal Broadcasting Company. (The character is based on Agnes E. Law, a real-life librarian at CBS who retired about a year before the film was released.) She and her close knit ladies answer a vast range of questions by telephone. For years Bunny’s been in a relationship with rising executive, Mike Cutler (Gig Young), who takes her for granted.
On the verge of a merger, the company brings in Richard Sumner (Tracy) to evaluate department needs and install computers of his own invention. (The computer EMERAC stands in for “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer,” the first electronic general-purpose computer.) No one tells Bunny et al what’s going on. Employees assume their jobs are in jeopardy.
Bunny is hostile to Sumner who, wearing science blinders, doesn’t understand why. She begins to make an impression on his otherwise crusty demeanor. Meanwhile, comparison to the unappreciative Mike finds him the loser. It all turns out well, of course. Hepburn is smart, fast and wry, Tracy a perfect absent-minded professor. Nifty turns by Joan Blondell and Dina Merrill. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 1967 Produced and Directed by Stanley Kramer. The last film Tracy and Hepburn made together with his death following 17 days after filming. One of the very few movies to portray interracial marriage positively. Twenty-three year-old Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton) returns home from vacation to California parents Matt and Christina Drayton (Tracy and Hepburn) unexpectedly bringing her fiancé. As she’s been raised staunchly liberal, mentioning that her intended, Dr. John Wade Prentice (Sidney Poitier), is African American slipped her mind.
The couple are making a respectful pit stop before he takes a new job in Geneva. Fourteen years older than Joanna and a widower, Prentice is aware that things may not go smoothly. In fact, Judge Drayton shocks everyone by being adamantly against the marriage…because of what the couple will have to endure. Christine Drayton is in favor.
By invitation, Prentice’s parents (Beah Richards and Roy E. Glenn) arrive to meet the bride, also unfortunately unaware of racial differences. Mrs. Prentice sides with Christine, her husband with the judge. Discussion is painful, loving, realistic; acting immensely moving. Aware of Tracy’s failing health, insurance companies refused to cover him. Kramer and Hepburn put their salaries in escrow so that if he died during the production, filming could be completed with another actor. Schedule worked around him. Free with Amazon Prime.