Archive for the ‘Sidney Poitier’ Category

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

30 Aug

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner – directed and produced by Stanley Kramer. Drama. An upper-crust couple must make an emergency decision about their only daughter’s decision to marry a negro. 108 minutes Color 1967.


Ten years go by between their last film together, Desk Set, and this. Desk Set was clearly Hepburn’s film, and this one is clearly Spencer Tracy’s, as Father Of The Bride. It is the last film of nine they made together and the last film Tracy ever made. As material it thrust forward Kramer’s penchant for social reformation. He had big stars for such films, and this film was an enormous success, and won an Oscar for Katharine Hepburn, which, as she admits in A Tribute To Spencer Tracy, she did not deserve, saying it was really being given to both of them, and she was right on both counts. This is not one of her best performances, and it easy to see why: she tears-up at every turn. Now what’s wrong with that? After all, Hepburn is a very technical actress; she can produce tears at will; George Stevens tells how when he was making Alice Adams with her, needed at a certain word, she could produce a tear out of her left eye, and when the scene had to be reshot, she did the same thing at the exact same word out of the same eye. Nothing wrong with it. But one of the things that makes Hepburn terrific to watch, so lively and so interesting, is that she is so interested. And what makes her interested is how she listens. And, if you watch how she listens, you can see that she listens, not with her ears but with her eyes. Her ability to do this gives her characters intelligence, humor, engagement, and depth. But when she tears up, she is not listening to anyone; she is self-involved; her acting become general; it often looks like self-pity; she is doing the audience’s job for her. When Hepburn tears-up she loses her listening eye. She’s not the only one; three of the four women in the picture weep readily; it’s quite tiresome, when the emotion called for lies in a range of quiet anger. However, when Beah Richard’s has her scene with Tracy, she nails it; it’s a well written and well-placed scene, but she makes it count, tearing-up, yes, but playing it quietly. If it was for a single scene Hepburn won the Oscar, it would have been for the firing of a bigoted employee. Watch how she does it; she throws away two lines in the speech – “Start your motor” and “although I don’t” – and, because she does, they become the most potent lines in one of the greatest played scenes in all her films. Another great moment is Hepburn’s complete shock and disapproval on first hearing her daughter is marrying a negro. Hepburn, a notably fair-minded spirit must have what is not a noble response, but she does not balk; she gives it full value. I saw the film when it came out and was baffled by it, because it seemed to me like tokenism. Although there were well-written and well-played scenes, it seemed it was covering bases merely. Cecil Kellaway brings a portion of pure joy to the problem, but it seemed like a parlor movie, a TV movie, not a big screen big public movie. This may be because the fiancée of Sidney Poitier is weightless. It’s a Desdemona role, a young Katharine Hepburn role, a part that requires inner boldness and strong character, neither of which the actor possesses. There is no sense she would make Poitier a good wife, and there is no sexual energy between them to validate the decision to hurriedly marry. Taking that on faith, however, the film still does not satisfy the demand to entertain. Prejudice, Tracy’s, is never examined as such, but only as an argument to justify his care for his daughter. So the opportunity for a tragic examination of the actual inner mechanism of prejudice itself is skimmed over. Instead, the film wags its finger. It still holds up, though. Why? Because we still need to see that finger to wag. Make no mistake: Bigotry lies still as a tiger, still in the undergrowth, waiting.


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Posted in ACTING STYLE: HOLLYWOOD CRISP, Cecil Kellaway, FAMILY DRAMA, Katherine Dunham, Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy

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