I guess back in 1967, black-and-white milkshakes where wiped-off menu’s everywhere, as well?
This film tells the story of a liberal couple (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn), he a publisher and she an art gallery owner, whose value system is challenged when their only daughter (Katharine Houghton) announces one day her intention to marry a famous black surgeon (Sidney Poitier). Obviously you know that all racist hell breaks loose! Well…sort of…
In today’s day and age, no matter where you may be in the world or what you’re views on the subject are, but interracial dating is still an act that people frown upon. However, back in 1967, it was pretty much illegal, without ever really being considered a law in the first-place. It was just a mutual understanding that blacks and whites weren’t supposed to be together in a romantic sort of way, even though it still happened behind the curtains. It just goes to show you that time does change, which is a good thing for society and the world we live in, but sadly, is not a good thing for this movie.
Director Stanley Kramer surprisingly starts this film out as a comedy which, much to my surprise, actually worked and had me interested into where the hell this story could, and might just go with itself. There were plenty moments that had me chuckling here and there, which really took me by surprise considering how ready I was for some straight-up drama and even though the topic may ask for that, it still came off as the opposite and had me wondering just what the hell Kramer’s intentions were with this story and what he planned to do with it in the first-place. However, as film continues to go on and on and bring in some more subjects to the story, it begins to get a bit more serious and sadly, that’s where all of the problems for this flick begin.
The problem with most films from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, etc., is that everything that seemed so cool and relevant then, are all lame and out-dated now. Obviously this is no surprise to any film-geek in the 21st century (points to self) who notices a huge change in the times, but this film really had me thinking about that problem the whole damn time and it just got in the way of everything. The dialogue does surprisingly have its moments, but also features plenty of other moments that are totally cheesy, over-dramatic, and very eye-rolling, almost to the point of where you wonder whether or not a certain line was supposed to be taken seriously, or these writers just thought it was time to have every character break-down and say the dumbest crap imaginable.
However, the point of this movie is what really invigorated me in the first-place and the real question is does this film bring up a lot about race and interracial relationships? In a way, yes is does, but is also done in such a way that it brings up all of these facts and problems with that point this movie is making, however, ends on it in such a terribly weird way that makes it seem like this film was aiming for something else other than the topic of racism. The film is basically telling us that it doesn’t matter what color, race, or social background two people come from, as long as they feel and have love for each other then that’s all that matters. That’s a nice theme and central message to have and think about as you go on throughout your whole day and life, but also seems terribly, terribly hokey and tame considering this issue that were dealing with here and how it was so damn taboo back in those days to even talk about, let alone, have a whole film discussing it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wanted this subject to be hit harder rather than touched and backed away from as if a little kid was at the petting zoo. Makes no sense? Yeah, I know, but just bare with me on that and realize that I was a scared kid at the zoo whenever my parents took me.
Though to be honest, I wouldn’t have had such a problem with this theme if it was handled at least a bit better in a more realistic and believable. Instead, the film goes with sentimental and light-approach that almost comes off as self-parody. The issue of interracial dating is an important one, and one that was really controversial back in the day, so it really made me disappointed in seeing just how soft of a obvious-treatment it was given here, without ever really allowing itself to break through the cracks and give us all something to think about that wasn’t just something that Hollywood was shoving down our throats. But it’s not all about interracial relationships, actually, some of it just talks about how the times are changing and how the younger generation is starting to gain more and more control over the older generation of people, an issue that goes on and on and on no matter what decade or generation it is. Once again, another important issue to bring up, but once again, the film handles it poorly. It got so bad during one scene where Tracy accidentally hits some young, black kids car and gets yelled at by him for being a dumb, old, senile man, which was a scene that had me laughing my ass off, even though the look on Tracy’s face was serious, as well as the kids’ as well. It’s one of those memorable scenes that you remember, strictly for all of the wrong reasons.
What does make this film a lot better and very watchable are the performances here given by the trio of leads. In what would be his last role ever, Spencer Tracy gives a heart-breaking performance that truly makes this film memorable. Throughout the whole film, Tracy’s character is constantly struggling with himself and his morals because he doesn’t know whether or not to say yes, or to say no to his daughter going off and getting hitched to this black man, that seems very charming and nice, but also worries him about their possible-future together. This problem is very understandable, and it’s also one that Tracy shows off perfectly with a great amount of sympathy and realism that seemed to lack from the rest of the film that surrounded him. Tracy has, and forever always will be a legend of acting and his performance here as the struggling father remains one of the finer performances from his later career, which makes it even more of a shock that the guy died only about 2 weeks later. Real shocker, but also a true testament to what a great actor he truly was and one that is still missed to this day.
Katharine Hepburn plays his elegant wife, Christina, and also gives another great performance, just like you’d expect from Miss Hepburn. She starts off as kind of a bitchy-type that you see in most of these “rom-coms” where it’s all about meeting the disapproving familia, but after awhile, you start to realize that this is real lady who only wants the best and whats safe for her daughter, but just can’t seem to get that idea off onto her hubby, who just so happens to be black. Hepburn has some really memorable moments here, especially when she fires a chick that works for her out of the blue and shows just why she was one of the greatest actresses to ever grace the screen. Once again, like Tracy, another actress that is still truly missed to this day and with her performance here, shows why you can do wonders with a mediocre script.
Let’s also not forget to mention the always terrific, Sidney Poitier as Dr. John Wade Prentice, in what is another role where he plays the calm, sophisticated, and charming black man that’s trying to win the approval of the common white-folk. Poitier is strong and perfect in a role that seems like he was fit to play, but there was one flaw to him that I didn’t seem to understand, and really took me away from his character’s believeability and motivations. I mean this black guy is essentially Mr. Perfect: he’s handsome, a renowned pro in his area of study, kind, respectful, and above all, a gentleman. Now why the hell would Tracy have such a problem with a kind of guy like that going out with his daughter? I get it, the guy is black but within the first 10 minutes of meeting the guy, he has to realize that he’s not that different from anybody that’s white. He’s just a simple, nice, and kind-hearted young man that just so happens to have the hots and wants to marry your daughter. Now what so bad about that, other than him being married to a white-girl in the 60’s? I may make it seem a lot less serious than it really was, but after awhile, these people should realize that the guy isn’t such a bad cat after all, and should at least be given a shot before they kick him to the curb.
In case you haven’t been able to notice, I mentioned that the trio of leads in this flick all do magnificent jobs, but I left out the other gal that just so happens to in this film as well, Katharine Houghton as the young-lady, that just so happens to have a case of jungle fever. The reason I chose not to include this chick with the three thespians up-top, is because she’s pretty bad and struggles through all of her dialogue, making her the main-reason why this film is as over-the-top as it comes out to be at certain points. I don’t know what the hell this chick does with her life now, but sad to say, I hope she didn’t show-up in any other flicks and ruin them, or hopefully, she got better at acting and decided to take a low-key approach. Either way, haven’t heard anything from the gal after this and I think the same could be said about Poitier and Hepburn, as well. Tracy doesn’t count, cause, well, you know, he died. Sorry, too soon?
Consensus: What was once a landmark film for discussing a controversial subject back in its day, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is now, in the year 2012, a very dated and tame film that doesn’t bring anything new to the subject of interracial dating, even though it does do a nice job of show off some very fine performances from the cast, especially Hepburn and Tracy, who is superb in his last role, ever.