Case Number 21171: Small Claims Court

TRACY AND HEPBURN: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION

Keeper Of The Flame
Warner Bros. // 1942 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Woman Of The Year
Warner Bros. // 1942 // 114 Minutes // Not Rated
Without Love
Warner Bros. // 1945 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
The Sea Of Grass
Warner Bros. // 1946 // 123 Minutes // Not Rated
State Of The Union
Warner Bros. // 1948 // 123 Minutes // Not Rated
Adam's Rib
Warner Bros. // 1949 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Pat And Mike
Warner Bros. // 1952 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Desk Set
Warner Bros. // 1957 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
Warner Bros. // 1967 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
The Spencer Tracy Legacy
Warner Bros. // 1986 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // April 20th, 2011

The Charge

A Hollywood Romance that was Legend -- wait for it...

The Case

When Katherine Hepburn first met Spencer Tracy prior to filming Woman of the Year, Hepburn, who was wearing high heels, commented, "I'm afraid I'm a bit tall for you, Mr. Tracy." Producer Joseph Mankiewicz promptly responded, "Don't worry, Kate -- he'll cut you down to size." The couple fell in love on the set of the film, beginning one of Hollywood's more storied romances. The couple never married -- Tracy's Catholicism wouldn't let him divorce his estranged wife. Despite the occasional lull, the couple stayed together until Tracy's death in 1967, less than three weeks after completing Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

During the course of their relationship, the couple collaborated on nine films. Tracy & Hepburn: The Definitive Collection brings together all nine into one convenient package. For the most part, the discs are just reissues of earlier releases, but Keeper of the Flame and The Sea of Grass are available on DVD for the first time. Both are also available separately, for those needing just to complete their collection. So here's what you get in this ten-disc set:

* Woman of the Year
* Keeper of the Flame
* Without Love
* The Sea of Grass
* State of the Union
* Adam's Rib
* Pat and Mike
* Desk Set
* Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
* The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katherine Hepburn

Woman of the Year
Sam Craig (Tracy) is a sportswriter for a New York newspaper, while Tess Harding (Hepburn), the daughter of a diplomat, is a political affairs writer at the same paper. They fall in love and marry, but can Tess reconcile being a wife with her high-profile lifestyle?

Their first film together hit on the perfect formula for the pair: They are at their best when they are on more or less equal footing and when they are together on screen (The movies that drift from that formula suffer for it). It also establishes one of Tracy's strength's as a comic actor, simply reacting to what's going on around him. The chemistry between the two is evident from the very beginning, so much so that in one of their first exchanges in the film, Tracy already looks as though he's completely smitten. The movie's main weakness is the ending. Despite a nicely staged bit of visual comedy as Tess attempts to cook breakfast, the ending is clunky and dated. Overall, though it all works.

Technically, we've got issues. The disc is simply a reprint of the 1997 release, and it shows. There's a fair amount of damage, with inconsistent black levels. The sound is clear enough, but sound levels are inconsistent.

Keeper of the Flame
Following the sudden death of national hero Robert Forrest, the entire nation is in mourning. Steve O'Malley (Tracy), an investigative journalist looking to write a biography of Forrest, manages to meet Forrest's widow, Christine (Hepburn) and get her blessing for the endeavor, but he begins to suspect that the heroic image of Forrest is just a façade, and determines to uncover the truth.

Filmed at the beginning of World War Two, Keeper of the Flame is an intriguing examination of the danger of hero worship -- and a timely one at that, given our current political landscape. The first half of the film is first-rate -- the scenes of reporters descending on the estate, along with the various suggestions that something is just not right about Forrester, ramp up the intrigue nicely. There's a Citizen Kane vibe to the search for background. The last 15 minutes or so, in contrast, are a sustained descent into melodrama. Tracy does a good job, but Hepburn, not so much. Her part was repeatedly reworked, and at times she wasn't happy with how the character was presented. The chemistry between the two is still palpable, but that might work against the film; romantic sparks between the lead and a new widow can be a little icky. The film probably would have worked better without that angle.

This is the first DVD release for the title, and they've done a good job. While some film damage remains, the image is much better than Woman of the Year. The film boasts some exceptional cinematography; particularly within the Forrester mansion, scenes are often framed in shadows, suggesting that in a way only Forrester's memory is keeping the darkness at bay. Sound is clear, though perhaps it would have benefited from being punched up just a little more.

Without Love
Pat Jamieson (Tracy), a scientist researching breathing gear for high-altitude bombers, sets up his lab in the basement of widow Jamie Rowan. She assists him with his research, and they decide to get married out of convenience, thinking that not being in love will allow them to avoid all the pitfalls that generally disrupt marriages -- bickering, jealousy, and the like. You can pretty much see where this one's going.

Without Love is a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy. It's fun and has some nice scenes, but it never really separates itself from its contemporaries. There's a nice subplot with Keenan Wynn and Lucille Ball. At 111 minutes, it's probably about 10 minutes too long, but the Tracy-Hepburn chemistry is in full force, and there are some wonderful sequences.

The Sea of Grass
In 1880, Lutie Cameron (Hepburn), a proper young lady from St. Louis, travels to Salt Fork, New Mexico, to marry successful cattleman Jim Brewton (Tracy). On the journey, she befriends Selina Hall (Ruth Hall, Awakenings), whose husband Sam is trying to stake a claim in Salt Fork to start a farm. When Lutie arrives in Salt Fork, she discovers the bitter divisions between the cattlemen and the homesteaders. For his part, Brewton is committed to preserving not only his way of life, but the "sea of grass," the sprawling, lush grasslands of the area. Lutie also encounters Brice Chamberlain (Melvyn Douglas, Being There), an idealistic newspaperman who is determined not only to see that the homesteaders get their chance and that Brewton receive his comeuppance, but he's also out to win Lutie for himself.

Director Elia Kazan was so embarrassed by the finished film that he asked that no one go see it, and it's not too hard to understand why -- this one's a mess. The tensions between cattlemen and homesteaders are legendary, the grist of countless movies before and since. To make Brewton as sympathetic a figure as possible, the violence against homesteaders is rarely shown, and when it is shown, it stems from the homesteader doing something incredibly stupid. The result is that the conflict between the cattlemen and the homesteaders, which is the backdrop for the entire film, has no tension. At one point, the movie jumps ahead about twenty years; within about five minutes you can see how everything is going to play out. It's not one of Tracy's better performances, but he wasn't given much. Hepburn fares somewhat better, though the two have relatively few scenes together. The supporting characters shine, from Robert Walker (Strangers on a Train) to Phyllis Thaxter (Superman: The Movie) as the adult Brewton children, and Edgar Buchanan (Petticoat Junction) as the Brewton's cook/nanny, Jeff.

State of the Union
Newspaper magnate Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury, Gaslight) and Republican strategist Jim Conover (Adolphe Menjou, Paths of Glory) are looking for a presidential candidate; the convention is looming, and none of the current nominees suit them. Kay suggests as a candidate aircraft tycoon Grant Matthews (Tracy); she can use her newspapers to deadlock the convention, then Matthews can be drafted as a compromise candidate. He's a good, honest man, Kay insists, and he's make a good president, especially with Kay and Conover calling the shots behind the scenes. Matthews is skeptical, but agrees to get on board, provided that his estranged wife Mary (Hepburn) agrees. Estranged, you say? Well, you see, Matthews has been in engaged in a torrid affair with, uh, Kay. You don't have to be Gary Hart to see this ship heading for the rocks.

Directed by Frank Capra, the movie shares the same underlying problem that plagues The Sea of Grass: The need to make Tracy's character as sympathetic as possible. The original play, loosely based on the long affair between one-time presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie and Irita Van Doren, was much more biting and satirical. You get a sense of the direction the film wants to go in the guise of handler/campaign manager Spike McManus (Van Johnson, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo), who tosses in snark at every opportunity. That's really where the film should have gone, but that kind of satire won't fly in a Frank Capra movie. Consequently, all of the edges get smoothed off; the result is a weak attempt to recapture the magic of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Matthews' relationship with Kay is both downplayed and made a central aspect of the plot, making things more than just a little bit clunky. As a Tracy-Hepburn vehicle, it's a disappointment, simply because they have relatively little screen time together -- the film is as much about Kay and Jim's attempts to become power brokers as it is Grant's development as a candidate. Supposedly there was some tension on the set between Hepburn and the younger Lansbury; in any event, when Mary sets eyes on Kay, you half expect Kay to burst into flames under her withering gaze.

Trivia I: Look for Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) as a maid with an unrequited crush on Van Johnson's character.
Trivia II: Claudette Colbert was originally cast as Mary, but was replaced by Hepburn at Tracy's insistence.

Adam's Rib
Assistant DA Adam Bonner (Tracy) is assigned to prosecute a woman (Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday) who tried to scare her adulterous husband (Tom Ewell, The Seven Year Itch) and his lover (Jean Hagen, Singin' in the Rain) by shooting at them repeatedly, hitting him in the shoulder. Bonner's wife, Amanda (Hepburn), also a lawyer, decides to defend the woman in court. As the two use every technique they know to win the case, the courtroom tension carries over into the couple's household.

Now this is more like it! This was the first Tracy-Hepburn movie I ever saw, and despite some ham-handed "battle of the sexes" dialogue, it still works. Here we get the perfect template for a Tracy-Hepburn film: Adam and Amanda start are both respected, successful attorneys, and the humor comes from that balancing act. Adam is mortified in court, but gets some lovely revenge at the end when he catches neighbor David Wayne (The Ellery Queen Mysteries) trying to put the moves on Amanda. It's hands down my favorite sequence in the film, the tension breaking in a completely unsuspected way, both Tracy and Hepburn playing their parts perfectly straight when it would have been all too easy to go for camp.

Pat and Mike
Pat Pemberton (Hepburn) is a brilliant athlete, with a weakness -- she chokes whenever her fiancé is around. After blowing a golf tournament, she enlists the help of Mike Conovan, a sports promoter of dubious repute, and they hit both the golf and tennis circuit, getting attention both from her fiancé and some small-time hoods. Having Tracy play less than a paragon of virtue is a departure for these two, but they're both clearly having a good time. Look for a young Charles Bronson (billed as Charles Buchinksi) as one of the hoods.

Trivia: Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude) and Garson Kanin wrote the screenplays for Pat and Mike and Adam's Rib, snagging Oscar nominations for both.

Desk Set
The Federal Broadcast Center has a secret weapon: Its Reference Section, headed by Bunny Watson (Hepburn), can look up any fact in the blink of an eye (and we're talking about physically looking up the information -- this is 1957, after all). Bunny's been dating a network executive (Gig Young) for several years, but there's no hint of marriage on the horizon.

Things are turned upside down due to a planned merger with another network. To handle the increase in data, the company has installed EMIRAC, an "electronic brain," in the Reference Section (think of EMIRAC as Google 0.1). EMIRAC's handler, Richard Sumner (Tracy) takes up station in the department, observing how it operates so that EMIRAC can be tweaked to work more efficiently. Everyone in the department is convinced that as soon as EMIRAC takes over, they'll be out of a job, and as a result, sparks -- literal and figurative -- fly between Richard and Bunny. Just a fun movie all-around. It wins points from me not only because I'm a computer geek, but also a former College Bowler who would kill to get on Jeopardy!. The disc includes a commentary track from Dina Merrill (The Player), one of Bunny's research assistants (another one of the assistants, Neva Patterson (All the President's Men) is listed as participating, but never says anything. It's just a fun movie all around.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Newspaper publisher Matt Drayton (Tracy) and his wife Christina (Hepburn) eagerly await the return of their daughter Joanna (Katherine Houghton) from a trip to Hawaii. Eagerness changes to shock when she arrives with a fiancé of color, Dr. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier). They've come for their parents' blessing, but John tells the stunned parents privately that he understands that they may have concerns, and that he will not marry Joanna without their approval. There's also a time limit -- the lovebirds' plane is scheduled to leave that night.

You cannot overlook the fact that the movie is as contrived and heavy handed as they come, but the performances make it work, particularly Tracy's speech at the end, in which Matt talks about his love for Christina. Everyone knew that Tracy was dying -- the film couldn't even get a completion bond; Kramer and Hepburn put their salaries in escrow so that if Tracy died during production, the film could be completed with another actor. That final speech was filmed in that context, and as Matt talks of his love for Christina, it's clear that Tracy is really talking about his love for Hepburn.

This disc appears to be the first disc of the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner 40th Anniversary Edition; it has introductions by Tom Brokaw, Quincy Jones, Karen Kramer, and Steven Spielberg.

The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katherine Hepburn
Produced as a television special, this documentary, as one might expect from the title, is a valentine to Tracy from Hepburn. It gives a nice overview of Tracy's career, and provides a few insights into Tracy's character -- but not as many as you might hope for. As an actor, Tracy always struck me as controlled, minimalist -- so when we see some excerpts from his diary, it was funny that the "entries" (at least, the ones we get to see) are clipped, terse, and to the point.

The Verdict

...ary.

You can quibble about the relative lack of extras, or that they're just repackaging existing titles, but this is a solid set, nicely packaged, and attractively priced.

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Keeper Of The Flame
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, Keeper Of The Flame
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1942
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Keeper Of The Flame
* Short Film
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Woman Of The Year
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, Woman Of The Year
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 1942
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Woman Of The Year
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Without Love
Judgment: 84

Perp Profile, Without Love
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French

Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1945
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Without Love
* Vintage Cartoon
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Sea Of Grass
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, The Sea Of Grass
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 1946
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Sea Of Grass
* Vintage Cartoon
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, State Of The Union
Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, State Of The Union
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, State Of The Union
* None

Scales of Justice, Adam's Rib
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile, Adam's Rib
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1949
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Adam's Rib
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Pat And Mike
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Pat And Mike
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French

Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1952
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Pat And Mike
* Production Notes
* Trailers

Scales of Justice, Desk Set
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile, Desk Set
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French

Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Desk Set
* None

Scales of Justice, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
* None

Scales of Justice, The Spencer Tracy Legacy
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, The Spencer Tracy Legacy
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Spencer Tracy Legacy
* None

Accomplices
* Wikipedia: Spencer Tracy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spencer_Tracy

* Wikipedia: Katherine Hepburn
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Hepburn

* IMDb: Woman of the Year
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0035567/combined

* Wikipedia: Woman of the Year
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_of_the_Year

* IMDb: Keeper of the Flame
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0034936/combined

* Wikipedia: Keeper of the Flame
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keeper_of_the_flame_(film)

* IMDb: Without Love
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0038256/combined

* Wikipedia: Without Love
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Without_Love

* IMDb: The Sea of Grass
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0039806/combined

* Wikipedia: The Sea of Grass
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sea_of_Grass_(film)

* IMDb: State of the Union
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0040834/combined

* Wikipedia: State of the Union
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_the_Union_(film)

* IMDb: Adam's Rib
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0041090/combined

* Wikipedia: Adam's Rib
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam's_Rib

* Wikipedia: Pat and Mike
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_and_Mike

* IMDb: Desk Set
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0050307/combined

* Wikipedia: Desk Set
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desk_Set

* IMDb: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0061735/combined

* Wikipedia: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guess_Who's_Coming_to_Dinner