The first film starring the legendary screen team of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, this savvy dramatic comedy from 1942 plays off the unlikely match of polar opposites--the brash sports reporter Sam Craig (Tracy) and the brilliant political commentator Tess Harding (Hepburn) from the New York Chronicle--whose marriage grabs front-page headlines. Balancing her flashy career with marital bliss turns out to be a complicated challenge for the worldly Tess, whose down-to-earth husband struggles to support her ambition while keeping their marriage from falling apart. Though some of its sexual politics are sure to seem outdated, this sparkling comedy is still relevant to today's demanding professional lifestyles, and the Hepburn-Tracy chemistry is a wonder to behold in some of their all-time favorite scenes. Woman of the Year was gracefully directed by George Stevens, from a screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin. --Jeff Shannon
Without Love, from 1945, is one of the first films to team Hepburn with Spencer Tracy, and yes, their onscreen chemistry is palpable. The conceit is one they would go on to use successfully time and again--plucky single woman resigned to living solo; rumpled, affable, slightly clueless bachelor who only needs to be shown just how much in love with our heroine he is. The supporting cast includes a terrifically cast Lucille Ball and Gloria Grahame.--A.T. Hurley
State of the Union
State of the Union is somewhat better as a Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie than it is as a Frank Capra picture. No doubt about it, these are two good roles for the smitten stars: Tracy is a self-made businessman reluctantly drafted into a dark-horse presidential candidacy; Hepburn is his estranged but whip-smart wife, who joins him on the campaign trail. Adding intrigue is the newspaper heiress (played with relish by baby-faced Angela Lansbury) who's the cause of their marital problems. She's also the one who convinces a longtime political horse-trader (Adolphe Menjou) to take up the campaign--which leads to a series of compromises for the candidate.
The Capra flavor is here, in the paeans to liberty and the American Way, and in the crackling pacing of dialogue scenes. Capra's affection for supporting players is also evident, with standout stuff from Menjou, Van Johnson (as a cynical aide), Lewis Stone, and Raymond Walburn. But the film's roots as a hit play (by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) are a little too evident, and the film as a whole doesn't feel as bracingly Capraesque as the director's 1930s work. Having said that, the political satire is as relevant today as it was in 1948, although the rapid-fire topical references might be puzzling to non-campaign buffs. Note for bloopers collectors: Hepburn's name is spelled "Katherine" in the opening credits. --Robert Horton
Sea of Grass
It's no surprise that Elia Kazan directed the oddly political Sea of Grass, the story of a man (Spencer Tracy) who reveres the grass plains and thinks they are no place for homesteaders and farmers. His wife (Katharine Hepburn) disagrees, however, and the two find themselves at odds. But putting politics aside, this is a melodrama with a capital "M," so throw in some adultery, an out-of-wedlock baby, and Hepburn speaking even more breathlessly than usual, and you might find yourself giggling at some of the more dramatic moments. Even more out of place, Strangers on a Train star Robert Walker plays Hepburn and Tracy's grown son, who cares more about cards and drinking than the land. There are sweet moments in this film, but the politics of the land is ultimately more compelling than the relationships. --Paige Newman
There are two great husband-wife teams (one on-screen, the other off) involved in this classic 1949 comedy. Not only do Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy throw comedic sparks as a married team of lawyers on opposing sides of a high-profile case, but their exquisite verbal jousting was scripted by the outstanding team of Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. Leading all of this stellar talent was director George Cukor at the prime of his career. The result is one of Hollywood's greatest comedy classics, still packing a punch with its sophisticated gender politics. Arguably the best of the Tracy-Hepburn vehicles, Adam's Rib shows the stars at their finest in roles that not only made their off-screen love so entertainingly obvious, but also defined their timeless screen personas--she the intelligent, savvy, rebellious woman ahead of her time, he the easygoing but obstinate modern man who can't help but love her. Screen teams don't get any better than this. --Jeff Shannon
Pat and Mike
Kate plays Pat Pemberton, a college physical education teacher who excels at just about every sport there is. She's also a great athletic competitor, except when her overbearing, worrywart fiancé, Collier Weld, is around. (As Weld, William Ching does an admirable job in a thankless role.) All Pat has to do is see Collier's face on the sidelines and her golf swing loses its power; her tennis game goes haywire. It takes crooked sports manager Mike Conovan (Spencer Tracy, of course) to recognize Pat's outstanding talent. He takes her on as his most important client and handles her with the same loving care that he gives to his favorite racehorse. Naturally, Pat and Mike's relationship is destined to overstep its professional boundaries. The mutual attraction grows from the moment they meet. Watching Pat walk away, Mike comments to his partner, "Not much meat on her, but what's there is 'cherce'."
The film carries a powerful feminist message, especially considering that it was made in the early 1950s: Pat is undone by Collier, who would rather have her stick to being "the little woman" and forget about succeeding. But with Mike in her corner, Pat can have a great career. Her union with him is a true partnership; everything is, as he says, "Five-oh, five-oh." In the end, he's secure enough to be comfortable as "the man behind the woman." The film features terrific comic performances by Aldo Ray as a bone-headed boxer, a young Charles Bronson (before he changed his name from Buchinski) as a small-time gangster, and Our Gang's Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer as a high-strung bus boy. --Laura Mirsky
One of the later Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn matchups, this time pitting efficiency expert--sorry, that's "methods engineer"--Richard Sumner (Tracy) against TV-network research whiz Bunny Watson (Hepburn) over adding a new-fangled computer--again, sorry, that's "electronic brain"--to her department, thereby threatening her and her colleagues' livelihoods. Gig Young appears as Bunny's beau, an ambitious network executive who strings her along and becomes apoplectic at the idea that she doesn't need him. But as always, it's Hepburn and Tracy's bickering-flirting that makes this such a winning enterprise--a lunch date that turns into an interrogation and their sly repartee during a Christmas party are a couple of the movie's hilarious highlights. Interestingly, what starts out as something of a technophobic exercise--Hepburn fears for her job, and a computer goes haywire--takes an abrupt turn (perhaps the IBM product placement had something to do with that). Briskly scripted by Henry and Phoebe Ephron (Nora and Delia's parents) from a play by William Marchant. --David Kronke
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Spencer Tracy's last performance was in this well-meaning, handsome film by Stanley Kramer about a pair of white parents (Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) trying to make sense of their daughter's impending marriage to an African American doctor (Sidney Poitier). The film has been knocked over the years for padding conflict and stoking easy liberalism by making Poitier's character in every socioeconomic sense a good catch: But what if Kramer had made this stranger a factory worker? Would the audience still find it as easy to accept a mixed-race relationship? But there's no denying the drawing power of this movie, which gets most of its integrity from the stirring performances of Tracy and Hepburn. When the former (who had been so ill that the production could not get completion insurance) gives a speech toward the end about race, love, and much else, it's impossible not to be affected by the last great moment in a great actor's life and career. --Tom Keogh
Keeper of the Flame
It's no surprise that Keeper of the Flame came out in 1942, the same year as Casablanca. In this would-be film noir, the problems of two little people again don't amount to a hill of beans when it comes to fighting fascism in other countries--not to mention the United States. Spencer Tracy stars as Steven O'Malley, a war correspondent who comes home to write a book about a great industrialist who's died under mysterious circumstances. He hopes to gain insight from the man's wife (Katharine Hepburn), but she is reticent to play along with the reporter. It's not difficult to figure out the "truth" that Tracy discovers, but the film is an interesting piece of period propaganda. Director George Cukor (who also directed Tracy and Hepburn in Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike) is definitely making what they used to call a message picture, but Tracy and Hepburn's always-apparent chemistry keeps it fun to watch. --Paige Newman