Top positive review
Perfection on screen
on 11 June 2017
If you've read my review of Katherine Hepburn's biography, you'll know I don't rate Spencer Tracy much as a human being. He was a moral and physical coward and an abusive drunk. However, even I can't deny that he was a great screen actor, and here both he and Hepburn deliver what I regard as their finest hour. He plays Sam Craig, a down-to-Earth sports reporter (a bit like Bulldog in "Frasier") while Hepburn is Tess Harding, a sort of Eleanor Roosevelt who speaks every language, knows everyone important and moves in the most exalted circles as a matter of routine. They meet and, despite their differences, quickly fall in love. However, as Montherlant said, "Happiness Writes White", and the real story unfolds as they struggle to maintain their love in the face of their manifest and growing differences.
The script, by Ring Lardner Jr., is a case-study in how to write beautiful, witty and truthful prose. The wit is so deft and fluent that it's easy to miss. For instance, at one point, Sam and Tess are being driven somewhere in a taxi. In the back seat they declare their love for each other, each engulfed in the rapture of the moment. Then the taxi stops, and the driver says "This is it". Sam replies "It sure is". Another time, when Sam meets Tess's father for the first time, he nervously says "I've been dreading this moment for days". Her father replies "I've been dreading it for years".
I've never regarded Hepburn as a particular beauty, having always thought her, like Leni Riefenstahl, as more striking than lovely. However, here she is both striking and beautiful, with the camera capturing her fox-like, angular face at its perfect best. The chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn is almost tangible, and it comes as no surprise to find that this is the film in which they first met and then fell in love (like Bogart and Bacall in "To Have and Have Not"). For some reason, this film is probably the least known and regarded of the nine films they made together over the years, and it beats me as to why this should be the case, as it's one of the finest films I've ever seen. If you haven't seen it, or have been put off doing so by indifferent reviews elsewhere, trust me and watch it - it's wonderful.