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Favorite Tracy/Hepburn Pairing


EugeniaH
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Last night I rewatched *Without Love* (1945) with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Tracy plays a scientist developing an oxygen mask for WWII pilots, who rents Hepburn's house to conduct his secret research. They marry out of convenience but eventually (long story short) fall in love.

 

Generally, of the Tracy/Hepburn pairings, I found this one to be less entertaining and a little too talky. Still, there's no denying their chemistry and I love watching them together on screen no matter what the movie. I also want to give special mention to a powerful scene when Hepburn becomes emotional as she recounts the story of her husband and how he died in an accident while riding his horse. Great acting scene.

 

Assuming you, too, love to watch these actors together, what is your favorite film of theirs?

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I prefer their comedies to their dramas. *Woman of the Year*, *Adam's Rib*, *Pat and Mike* and *Desk Set* are all similiar in that their characters are both strong, intelligent and witty. I find that their banter back and forth more appealing in AR, P&M and Desk Set than in *Woman Of the Year* . The licorce scene in *Adam's Rib* for me is one of the cleverest and funniest scenes on film. Each film has that same recurrent theme of them both being equals. In *Pat and Mike*, Tracy is the rough around the edges type, but understands what works for Kate. He may be in charge in this one, but the ending still has Kate saying he'll go down the drain without her.In *Desk Set* Kate proves to Tracy that she is not only as smart as he is and better at her job than a computer, because she can be depended on (without breaking! LOL) . *Adam's Rib* has Kate as an intelligent attorney, she's Tracy's equal with a firm belief in women's rights. *Woman Of the Year* has that same strong, forceful Kate, but without that sense of humor. All great films, but I enjoy those comedies more.

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I really like the marriage in "Adam's Rib." It is a comfortable relationship. They argue but do no damage (no matter how much Kate stomps her foot.) They flirt, they make up, they do things that long time married people do. The only real problem with the relationship for me, and it's minor as it is a movie, is the jealousy.

 

I agree the licorice is a hoot. It points out the silliness of what has come before. Under everything all the time is love.

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In *Desk Set*, two scenes stand out to me as "favorites". One is when Tracy comes into Hepburn's apartment out of the rain, dries off and puts on a robe, etc., then happily sits down to a meal when Gig Young comes in. The look on Young's face is priceless - it looks to all the world that Tracy is having a romantic fling with Young's girl. The other scene is the noted "rooftop" scene where Tracy is feeding her tricky questions and Hepburn is coming out with clever answers. I really like the natural way she delivers these responses, thinking on her feet and getting everything correct, one after the other.

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Eugenia, you and I should go to the movies together. We think just alike. Those two scenes in "Desk Set" are my favorites also. I have a story you may enjoy about that picture. A friend of mine met the writer, Henry Ephron, who wrote that movie with his wife Phoebe; Henry told him this story. One day Spencer Tracy was leaning against the wall talking to Phoebe a little flirtatiously when Katharine Hepburn came by, crisply announcing that Spencer was wanted on the set. She went away smartly, and Spencer looked after her, sighed, and said, "She's never forgiven me for Ingrid Bergman."

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Yeah, that film often gets forgotten among their works. And it has an interesting dynamic between their roles in the film and their off screen relationship that makes the film even more interesting to watch....

 

Of course it only became a Tracy/Hepburn film at the last minute due to Claudette Colbert walking off or getting fired from the film for refusing to work after 5pm and Kate was a last minute replacement...but the film seems destined for them from the start.

 

Edited by: Hibi on May 23, 2013 2:50 PM

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My favorite Tracy/Hepburn films are *Woman of the Year, State of the Union, Adam's Rib,* and *Desk Set.*

 

*State of the Union* does seem to get short shrift when it comes to being televised. Besides Tracy and Hepburn and the story in general, I really like the cast of this film - Adolphe Menjou, Van Johnson, Angela Lansbury, Lewis Stone, and Margaret Hamilton.

 

*Desk Set* may just be my own personal favorite. I have seen it any number of times and always enjoy it. I would have to agree with those who mentioned the rooftop scene and the scene in Katharine Hepburn's apartment as two scenes that stand out, especially the one in the apartment. Joan Blondell is also in that scene and when she and Katharine Hepburn start cracking up with laughter, it sounds very real. Katharine Hepburn even makes a bit of a snorting sound when she laughs! I've always thought that playing a laughing scene could be just as difficult, if not more so, than playing a crying scene. The trick is to make it look spontaneous and I thought they carried it off beautifully.

 

Besides those two scenes, I have always enjoyed the office party scene and, in general, have always thought that this particular office would be a very interesting place to work.

 

 

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Well I'm going to play it safe by saying my favorite comedy of theirs is Pat and Mike and my favorite drama is State of the Union (great all around cast and I find Angela Lansbury to be very attractive in it (which I know for some is weird).

 

I also enjoy Women of the Year but I view it as both a comedy and drama.

 

 

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Joan Blondell is also in that scene and when she and Katharine Hepburn start cracking up with laughter, it sounds very real. Katharine Hepburn even makes a bit of a snorting sound when she laughs! I've always thought that playing a laughing scene could be just as difficult, if not more so, than playing a crying scene. The trick is to make it look spontaneous and I thought they carried it off beautifully.

 

 

 

Acording to what I've read, that particular incident WAS spontaneous; the women had no idea Tracy was going to come around the corner doing a drunk and with his clothes all awry. They just fell apart.

 

But you're right about laughing scenes. Crying scenes are hard but laughing scenes are even harder, since you can't disguise laughing as you can crying.

 

Trying NOT to laugh seems to have been a trick some actors couldn't manage. Laurence Olivier spoke about having to be shamed before the company again and again before he could stop it, when he was first acting. Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence bawled him out every time he giggled on stage. It finally made him stop.

 

The worst case I ever heard of was Jimmy Cagney, in "Mr. Roberts." There was one line that cracked him up every time, when Ensign Pulver says he's been on the ship fourteen months. Cagney finally asked Jack Lemmon to go over the line with him over and over until it wasn't funny any more, and said in his book that when you see him onscreen hearing the line, he's just barely holding the laughter in.

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I suppose it'd be Pat and Mike, but I'd easily take all three of the classic Hepburn - Grant pairings (Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, Holiday) over anything she did with Tracy. Even their comedies seem like little more than three different variations of the same cliched plot: Columnist / sportswriter; lawyer / lawyer; athlete / trainer. Tracy's always the pigheaded Irishman, Hepburn's always the far more interesting character, and they always wind up right where the Production Code wants them. Give me the anarchy of Kate and Grant any day.

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An excellent insider view of the relationship of Tracy & Hepburn is Garson Kanin's book of the same title. Paperback ISBN 1-55611-102-9 and can generally be found in any used bookstore for a song.

 

Kanin & wife Ruth Gordon were best friends with the un-couple and there are many stories of their travels & interesting incidents.

 

Through the years I have discovered the inner person comes through charactors portrayed on the screen. This is certainly true of both Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn especially when together.

 

Hepburn is a strong willed expressive person. Tracy is a controlled person who holds his cards close to his chest. They are best when they influence the other in a story.

 

I especially like "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" although the words may not reflect who they are, their eyes do.

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I have to give a shout-out to two of the lesser known Hepburn/Tracy joints: The Sea of Grass (1947) and Keeper of the Flame (1942?)

 

The first is directed by Elia Kazan, although he allegedly "disowned" the film he was so peeved that MGM demanded he use rear projection as opposed to location shooting- (to be honest, the rear projection looks perfectly fine to me.) Nonetheless it's really compelling, well-done and damn ahead of it's time. The best word I can think of for the whole thing is: *complicated.* A lot of the time Tracy and Hepburn play couples with issues, but we know they'll work it out in the end. This one, notsomuch. three and a half out of four.

 

The second was their second film together, an almost immediate follow-up to Woman of the Year, a kind of rare suspense thriller for both- and probably the most undermentioned of their films (with the possible exception of Without Love, which is okay, but a little too long and light on laughs.) I read somewhere it was held over at Radio City Music hall for a few weeks- I've read it described as not successful by others (not that that deserves much thought either way.) Along with Stage Door and The Philadelphia Stoey, it's a good example of how Hepburn (and others) cleverly worked with the percieved image of her as an icy, aloof, even arrogant figure to put her performances across and it has a rather surprising twist at the end with some good dialogue to go with.. three out of four.

 

Edited by: AddisonDeWitless on May 24, 2013 10:07 AM

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Keeper of the Flame is my least favorite of their pairings (though I admit I havent seen them all. Havent seen Sea of Grass), though its worth seeing (ONCE anyway) There was a lot of rewriting on the script and they changed the ending due to the code. Wether or not it would have been better, who can say?

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Based on how often I watch it, DESK SET is probably my favorite Hepburn/Tracy pairing -- at our house, we always watch it during the holiday season because of the Christmas office party, and it never fails to entertain.

 

Besides the apartment and rooftop scenes in DESK SET that others have mentioned, I always get a big kick out of the scene during the Christmas party where Kate and Joan get tipsy on champagne, laughing about the "Mexican Avenue bus," with Spence humoring them throughout. I also love the exchange between Kate and Spence a little later on, where he's talking about an old girlfriend who would write to him with fashion news during the war -- he says to Kate, "I don't exactly look like someone who's interested in women's fashions," and she replies, "Not even in men's."

 

If I had to say which of their films is the best movie overall, however, it'd be ADAM'S RIB. Great script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, great direction by George Cukor, great cast -- besides the leads, you can't beat David Wayne, Judy Holliday, and Tom Ewell in their supporting roles. It even a darn good song, by Cole Porter, "Farewell, Amanda," sung by an uncredited Frank Sinatra! And I like the feminist angle as well.

 

But I do like all of the movies they made together, although I'd have to say that SEA OF GRASS and WITHOUT LOVE aren't quite as compelling as the others. KEEPER OF THE FLAME is kind of an odd mystery/drama about the true nature of a "national hero," but I do enjoy watching it every couple of years -- its message about looking behind the public face is worth keeping in mind, even today. PAT AND MIKE, from most of same folks who made ADAM'S RIB, is an extremely enjoyable light comedy, and in STATE OF THE UNION, Capra brings his signature touch to another good combination of comedy and drama in the political realm (although not quite as successfully as in MR. SMITH, which used some of the same elements). I always find GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER a bit sad, knowing that Tracy didn't live to see it released, but it has very good performances, and a very positive, if somewhat heavy-handed, message.

 

By the way, let me second the recommendation of Garson Kanin's "Tracy and Hepburn" -- it's a very interesting and entertaining book. (Shoot, it's been about 20 years since I read it -- I should probably do so again.) Kanin also wrote a book about their mutual friend George Cukor; I believe it was called "Remembering Mr. Cukor," and it also gives an interesting personal view of the great director.

 

 

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I'm also a bigger fan of the Grant/Hepburn pairing than Tracy/Hepburn but I do really like Pat and Mike. The primary reason Pat and Mike is my favorite T/H film is because the motives behind Mike's actions in that film are not the typical ones we see in the other films but instead driven by how a sport's agent trainer needs to treat an athlete in this type of situation, male or female. Mike treats the Aldo Ray character in a similar way. In Pat and Mike it is Pat's boyfriend that is mostly the insecure and sexist male instead of Mike. In the other movies it is of course the Tracy character.

 

 

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*ADAM'S RIB!!!* Hilarious, great writing, interesting idea, brilliant how they play the breakdown relationship, then the repair. Plus, holy cow, what a supporting cast: Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, & Jean Hagen are so hiklariously undereducated and dysfunctional. Plus there's David Wayne, the tired judge, and the clerk with the New York accent. Memorable, funny, yet thought provoking.

 

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