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Adam’s Rib

Ring a Ding Ding

Adam's Rib (1949)

     No one could have better played a powerful career woman in a devoted marriage better than Katharine Hepburn, and no one could have better held his ground as the spouse opposite that star than Spencer Tracy. Audiences loved seeing Hepburn and Tracy on the screen together, and Adam’s Rib lended what might have been a variation on their true relationship. Although the stars were never married, they maintained a relationship that endured until the end of Tracy’s life. Both meanwhile held down the same career, although one much more artistic than that of their lawyer characters here.

     Tracy plays Assistant District Attorney Adam Bonner who is assigned to the case of a woman who has shot and wounded her cheating husband. The attorney is none too keen on being assigned the case as his wife Amanda (Hepburn)  has spent all morning fixated on the related newspaper story and how a man would be treated differently for attacking an unfaithful spouse. Amanda has meanwhile gone out of her way to hunt down this shooter, Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday), in order to represent her pro bono. Amanda sees the case as a great chance to level the playing field between men and women under the law.

     Adam is immediately unhappy with the circumstances, and the couple and case become hot material for the newspapers and editorial cartoonists. The case becomes increasingly contentious between the two parties and begins to affect their life at home where Adam is unable to forgive Amanda’s ruthless courtroom activity. On top of everything, Amanda is visiting with a flirtatious neighbor friend (David Wayne) when Adam storms in to find the two embracing and threatens to shoot the two under the same circumstances as the case. The couple near divorce but will find a way to reconcile.

     While watching Adam’s Rib I had a hard time determining whether this was a drama or a comedy. The story is very serious but it is not without moments of humor. Many of those come from Holliday as the sort-of-dumb shooter whose emotions take the form of hunger more than any other state. Her disheveled life makes a great contrast to the once-pristine marriage of the Bonners. Her husband, played by Tom Ewell is plenty despicable and Jean Hagen as his mistress is equally intolerable.

     Tracy and Hepburn meanwhile have probably never been better; although one could say that of a lot of their collaborations. Despite middle age, the two act like lovers 10 or 20 years younger who flirt under the courtroom table or stick their tongues out at each other. The duo are so comfortable on screen, which is to be expected given this was the sixth of their nine MGM pictures together. The morning bedroom scene in which Tracy refuses to waken look like it could be a reflection of actual at-home life for the couple.

  • Adam’s Rib is set for 2:45 p.m. ET April 12 and 6:15 p.m. ET May 12 on TCM.

6 Responses

  1. Adam’s Rib is most probably my favorite of their 9 films (though I enjoy Woman of the Year very much, too). They had great chemistry and always looked so natural onscreen.

  2. Great script. I usually refer to “Adam’s Rib” as my favourite talkie.

  3. I pride myself as a Katharine Hepburn scholar, and I really think you hit the nail on the head here with “Adam’s Rib.” I would certainly classify this a comedy, although the laughs are centred on a more serious subject-matter. The film is really courageous in how it openly, but tactfully, tackles the gender issue. In this way, it’s a little ahead of its time. Tracy and Hepburn’s perfect American “democratic coupleing” (Andrew Britton) was certainly unique and it gave depth to all the films they made together, from “Woman of the Year” (1942) to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1968).

    • Thanks for the comment! It’s great to get such a compliment from an expert in the subject. I think we would all like to believe that democratic coupleing was how things were for Tracy and Hepburn in real life, whether that was the case or not.

      • I try not to get too involved with their love story. I only know Tracy from the Hepburn perspective anyway. I think one good thing about their relationship was that they each remained independent of the other. Hepburn could leave if Tracy was being difficult – she was never forced to (or able to) submit herself completely to his influence or his will. This helped her maintain her autonomy which would not have been possible if (hypothetically) they had been married or something more final. I think in this way, they did have a fairly democratic relationship – but only because they were distinctly independent of each other. I think Hepburn says it best herself when she says, “I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Maybe they should just live next door and visit occasionally.” (I hope I didn’t butcher that quotation!)

  4. I’m starting a new blog exclusively about Katharine Hepburn! Will you tell me what you think about it so far?

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