I find it difficult to picture a world in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy persist together “without love”, but that is precisely what their third film together asked audiences to do, although they were expected to hope for it.
After appearing in Woman of the Year in 1942, audiences were hooked on the pairing and the stars themselves grew addicted to one another. They would remain so for the rest of their lives through nine films and Tracy’s marriage that could not be dissolved because of his strict Catholic beliefs. When theater-goers proved less thrilled by the unromantic The Keeper of the Flame also released in 1942, Hollywood producers came to their senses and returned the actors to the genre in which they were best received for Without Love.
Military scientist Pat Jameson (Tracy) finds himself the caretaker of a mansion belonging to Jamie Rowan (Hepburn). Jamie is not convinced at first that Pat and his dog Dizzy are suitable for the joint but she is persuaded both because her scientist father was friends with Pat’s father and because he is working to perfect a oxygen mask for Air Force pilots flying at high altitudes. In getting to know each other, the duo have explained their respective reasons for never wanting love in their lives again: Pat was hurt by a selfish woman in France and Jamie’s ideal husband died in an accident two years into their marriage. Since she finds her life meaningless, Jamie proposes the two get married so she can work as Pat’s assistant. The union would be strictly businesslike however and strictly without love.
On their wedding night, Pat’s somnambulism gets the best of him, however, and he sleep walks right into Jamie’s bed, much to her shock and disapproval. After that hiccup, however, the marriage runs smoothly. Friends and family, however, have started to notice the absence of passion in the relationship, so a neighbor who previously made advances toward Jamie inches his way in. The couple has a row while they are in Chicago offering up the finalized oxygen mask because Pat’s ex is in town and wanting to see the man. Jamie returns home and starts an affair with the neighbor while Pat checks in with Lila. Pat comes home as both halves of the marriage discover jealousy the necessary spark to ignite the flame of love, and the Jamesons restart their companionship properly.
Adding to the cast are Lucille Ball as Jamie’s business manager of sorts and Keenan Wynn as Jamie’s cousin. Given a childhood of “I Love Lucy” episodes as my Ball baseline, I found the younger actress here elegant and beautifully spoken. Wynn was also younger and less gruff in voice than I am accustomed to, and their characters are quite charming in their side-story romance. Wynn was a fabulous character actor well suited in both comedies and dramas who has about 150 movies to his credit. Hepburn and Tracy are their usual great selves as well, but I would not call Without Love any great achievement, just another on the list of their collaborations.
- Without Love is set for 10:15 a.m. ET June 15 on TCM.
Source: Ben Mankiewicz