ADAM'S RIB, 1949
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Tom Ewell, David Wayne, Jean Hagen, Hope Emerson, Eve March and Judy Holliday
When Doris Attinger is accused of attempted murder, married attorneys Adam and Amanda Bonner each take on the case (one more willingly than the other). However, with Amanda defending Doris, and Adam attempting to prosecute, under scrutiny and pressure is not only Doris, but also the relationship between Adam and Amanda.
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Adam’s Rib is the quintessential mix of drama, comedy and romance. The combination of an outstanding cast, screenwriters (Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin were nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay) and director have led to the film being ranked as the seventh best romantic comedy of all time by the American Film Institute and arguably the best of the on-screen partnering films of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
When Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) is accused of attempting to murder her husband after following and catching him with another woman, Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy) is assigned to the prosecution team. Learning of this, Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn) takes on the task of defending Doris, her entire line of defence “based on the proposition that persons of the female sex should be dealt with before the law as equals of persons of the male sex”.
The film ultimately turns into a battle of the sexes (although the battle deriving from and constantly enforced by Amanda who is hell-bent on expressing her discontent of the double standards she feels exist for the opposite sexes, not only socially, but also within the courts of law). Adam on the other hand is solely concerned with having somebody he views as being mentally unstable locked up.
It could be argued that at times the film diverts away from its driving story concerning Doris and focuses more upon gender politics within society. In her attempt to “prove” Doris’ innocence and justify Doris’ actions Amanda brings to the stand a handful of women who have exceeded expectations and broken assumptions of what they are capable of achieving– women who have exceptional levels of mental intelligence, physical agility and strength. This is completely out of context as far as the trial of Doris Attinger is concerned, as it is unclear how these women assist in convincing the jury that it is ok for a woman to attempt to kill her husband if he is unfaithful. Yet it proves loyal to the film’s focus on gender biases within society which it does in both serious and comedic manners.
The film manages in its seriousness to incorporate moments of comedy and romance with its greatly written script. One of these being when Amanda lights and smokes a cigarette when first questioning Doris about the events leading up to the incident where she shoots her husband. Doris states that she doesn’t believe women should smoke as it’s not “feminine”. This is very contradictive and hence amusing coming from a woman who has just shot her husband - something generally not expected of the so-called “gentle sex”.
Judy Holliday, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for her role as Doris Attinger, easily manages to hold her own against not only the formidable presence of Katharine Hepburn, but also that of Tracy and Hepburn together (this was the sixth film the two had starred in together). The dialogue plays perfectly to the pairing of Tracy and Hepburn (the script was written specifically for them by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin). The drama in the courtroom is intertwined perfectly with unexpected moments of love and playfulness shared between the two - they purposefully push their pens off their desks so they can look underneath, exchange glances, and share a personal joke without anybody else seeing.
In any other film the on-screen chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn would have stolen all attention from any other aspect, but in this film, it somehow does not - this being an excellent achievement by the writers and other cast members. Yes, the Tracy and Hepburn pairing is an endearing element of the film but an excellent performance from Judy Holliday and the films battle against gender prejudices all manage to entertain and engage the viewer. Managing to incorporate and intertwine all of these elements effortlessly and to the highest standard is what makes this film particularly special, offering a thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking viewing.