December 14 2004

Figured I might as well post my occasional movie reviews I write for the heck of it

Figured I might as well post my occasional movie reviews I write for the heck of it

1967’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner probably raised more than a few eyebrows at the time of it’s release. Sadly though, if you can not put yourself in the mindset of that time, the potential emotional impact of the film will be lost on you.

Set in the San Fransisco of the late 1960’s, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner tells the story of Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton) bringing her boyfriend of a mere 10 days, Dr. John Wade Prentice (Sidney Poitier), home to meet her parents. What the parents (played by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn) don’t know is A)she is coming home, B)that she has a boyfriend she is planning to marry C)that said boyfriend is African-American and that D)said boyfriend is 14 years older than she.

Dr. Prentice informs Joey’s parents of his intentions to marry their daughter, but also informs them he will not marry Joanna without their permission. To further complicate matters though, they only have this one day to decide if they approve as he is due to leave for Geneva Switzerland for a job. What ensues is a family’s hopes and dreams for their daughter being analyzed and re-thought in the span of a mere few hours. Trying to decide if their daughter’s happiness should outweigh the inevitable hardships she will face in a relationship such as this.

The film spares no time in setting up just how happy the new couple are, and also does not waste time in letting you know the difficulties an interracial couple will face at this time in American history. Sadly though, it goes wrong in several other areas that are disturbing. The cookie-cutter characters in this film abound. The Irish Catholic Monsignor, the wise-to-the-world African American housekeeper and the busy-body friend of the Mother who has to be put in her place. If you can look pass these worn out, two-dimensional characters though, there is a poignant story of how love truly should conquer all.

Going back and watching a film that deals with race relations from a different time period can, however, be enlightening. Not once do you hear the term “African American”. You do hear the “N” word once, but it is used by the housekeeper towards Dr. Prentice. It is still shocking to hear it blurted out all of a sudden, but again, you have to remember the time frame the film was made in.

This is a difficult review to write though. This movie is flawed, but do you rate it based on its obvious film making flaws, or the merits of a story that needed to be told? I think in the end you have to go with the story. The story is basic, simple and timeless, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, and don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. For that, and its place in cinematic history, it deserves 4 stars.

Sadly, the DVD though only gets 2 stars. It does feature a gorgeous transfer of the film, and does offer both widescreen and full screen versions. However, the lone extra is the original theatrical trailer. Certainly there must have been something they could have included in the form of a commentary track for one of AFI’s Top 100 Films Of The 20th Century. A sad, little trailer is all it gets? Pathetic.

On a side note, this is also a sad movie to watch as you know Spencer Tracy passed away only 17 days after filming completed. You can also see the early signs of Katherine Hepburn beginning to show signs of trembling that would later be so well known. It was a fine film for both noteworthy actors.

Four stars for the film
Two stars for the DVD

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