Pat and Mike – directed by George Cukor. Comedy. A third rate sports promoter takes on a multitalented female athlete, who has a jinx. 95 minutes Black and White 1952.
Two things must be remembered about Katharine Hepburn. The first is that she is the type for the personality actress. The second is that, as Mildred Dunnock said of her, her talent grew with time. Indeed, she is the only film actress of her era of whom this can be said. It is not just that she was a careerist par excellence, or that she became an American institution and went on acting into her eighties; it was also that she became interested in developing her gift; so that she took on the great classical roles, Hecuba in Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Desdemona in Othello, Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Mad Woman of Chaillot, Shaw’s The Millionairess, and Albee’s A Delicate Balance. No other film actress of her era entered or even touched upon the classical drama. Bette Davis performed The Night Of The Iguana badly, but that was it. Hepburn performed The Glass Menagerie badly but she also performed Suddenly Last Summer superbly. She made relatively few movies considering her longevity, for, unlike all the other female film stars, she never left the live theatre. Just before making this picture, she launched into her series of Shakespeare comedies with the longest female role in the cannon, Rosalind in As You Like It. In it she showed off her terrific legs and they are well on view here as she plays a twin-threat athlete. Hepburn had been a champion golfer as a teenager and took up tennis when she came to Hollywood. She was a natural athlete and physically fearless. She breezes across the campus with a change of clothes in her hands and leaps across the back of her boyfriend’s convertible and ducks down to change her duds — remarkable! But she is deeply co-dependent to this boyfriend, who jinxes her whenever he appears at her competitions, although one senses it was part of her nature, a substitute for sex, in which she was not interested. So she weeps and it plays as self-pity, and is an error she makes throughout her career. When she is supposed to fall in love with a man, a very entertaining Spencer Tracy in this case, she gets gooey, another error. Or she gets dreamy, as Alice Adams. She is not only repellent, but worse, she is unconvincing. Their screen duets were, except for the first, Woman Of The Year, not based on sex. In fact sex was probably not an important ingredient in their relations off-screen either. Their chemistry is the chemistry of perfect human dove-tailing. And you find it, not in their romantic scenes but in their playing. In actual life they spent relatively little time together. She was off on her career, coming back to him for occasional rescue operations, but spending most of her time on the East coast. (She never had a Hollywood home.) But she is a great personality actress. She had a peculiar voice and accent and a face like none other. She had a strong sense of delivery and physical ease and authority. She had too many identifiable traits for her ever to be called a character actress, but there is nothing wrong with that. She had an honesty and forthrightness that was admirable and appealing. She could level with you like no one else. She was the top flight high comedienne of film of her era. She was too particular and too peculiar to be able to submerge herself into parts that required strong disguise, accents, or traits not her own, as evidenced in Dragon Seed. But she was a great and unique energy, with a talent that she sought to develop all her life. She never sought to play heavies or villainesses. She chose roles with noble outcomes. She was aware of her public in terms of what she was willing to bring to them, and not bring to them, and the public respected her for it. It is idle to complain that she is only playing herself. It would be more correct to say that she is playing herselves. She was not a great actress at all, but in acting she was great many times and many times over. She was always what she set out to become, fascinating. She was a great Thing. She was the only one who lasted.