ADAM'S RIB (1949) 

Katharine Hepburn
Spencer Tracy
Judy Holliday
Tom Ewell
David Wayne
Jean Hagen
Hope Emerson
Eve March
Clarence Kolb

George Cukor



Time: 101 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Courtroom/Romance/Drama

Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay.

ADAM'S RIB is considered by many to be one of the best films Tracy and Hepburn made together. I'm not going to disagree. In many of their pictures they play a married couple with a loving, but tempestuous relationship. This film is no different. Their longstanding relationship offscreen only helps to add nuances to their onscreen chemistry. The idea for this film, dueling lawyers on opposite sides of a murder trial, came from a real life situation. It explores what effect the trial has on the home life of an otherwise happy couple. As one can imagine, it isn't good. However, in this case, it sure is funny. There are some touching moments as well, when you're not sure whether their relationship will withstand the onslaught of ego. ADAM'S RIB is a battle of verbal wits where winning may cost more than either party is willing to pay.

The film opens with Doris Attinger (Holliday) attempting to murder her husband Warren (Ewell) and his mistress (Hagen). A horrible shot, she misses them both – only slightly nicking her husband – and winds up in jail for attempted murder. Amanda Bonner (Hepburn), a defense attorney, is outraged by the double standard society has put on this wronged woman and is determined to defend her. Mrs. Attinger was only fighting for her honor and her home. Adam (Tracy), agrees with Amanda. Society is most likely to blame for Mrs. Attinger's current situation, but the law is the law and he's going to make sure that people who break it are going to pay. He is, however, unhappy to be given this particular case, as he doesn't want to face off against his wife in court. They don't have much choice since Amanda is adamant about her new cause and Adam, as the district attorney, can't be reassigned.

It all begins innocently enough with the two of them pretending that everything will be OK, but it soon escalates into a full scale war. Amanda doesn't think that Adam understands her convictions and Adam believes with good reason, that Amanda is twisting the law to suit her own purposes. Besides which her courtroom antics have belittled not only him, but the system at large. By the end of the trial, there are no more kisses being blown under the table.

"Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is called "inbreeding," from which comes idiot children and more lawyers."

In fact, Adam can't even stand to be in the same room with his wife. He can't believe he married someone with such an utter disregard for the law. Amanda tries to get him to see her point of view, but it's no use. They eventually reconcile, but only after a wild evening where Adam proves to Amanda that she was completely wrong, that no matter what the problems are with society, the law applies to everyone, fairly or unfairly. They end their fighting like all happily married couples bed enjoying the differences between men and women.

ADAM'S RIB tries to take the high road by giving its' marital comedy a little more bite and depth, but it doesn't quite succeed on that level. Maybe because the argument of the double standard just doesn't have the same righteous ring as it did 50 years ago. Sure men still get away with murder when it comes to sexual matters and I doubt that will ever change, but it still doesn't give a person the right to attempt murder. Amanda's argument that if Doris was a man and did the same thing she would have gotten a slap on the wrist is ridiculous. To begin with, she probably would've been a better shot. Second, attempted murder is attempted murder. It doesn't really matter what the motives are or how justified. Affairs are unacceptable, but doesn't mean the scorned have the right to take matters into their own hands. Hepburn's arguments may be persuasive, however, they are grossly ill-conceived.

Of course, the whole trial is merely a means of providing grist for the mill of Amanda and Adam's verbal battle of wits. The case, a foil for exposing their opposite points of view regarding the roles of men and women in society. We are very different creatures, but that doesn't mean we can't be equals. It seems fairly obvious, which makes the arguments rather flat. However, there's nothing subdued about either's character or performance. Their passion, for each other and their causes, makes for some wonderfully heated and interesting moments. No punches pulled here. Hepburn is wonderful when she's all fired up and she's got a role here with some real teeth to it. Her intelligence, wit and vulnerability give Amanda heart and soul. Her charisma actually makes Tracy appear sexy. He has the more unlikable role, as the put upon husband who loves his career-minded wife, but would rather she behave more like a woman than a lawyer. His views about men and women may be old-fashioned, but there's some veracity to his claims. It's his honest desire to win his wife back that gives the flick depth and poignancy.

Judy Holliday and Tom Ewell make their first big supporting debuts and add delicious bits of comedy and pathos to this piece. Holliday made a career of playing dumb blonds, but at least here, she's got a part that calls for something to be behind those doe eyes. Ewell's at his smarmy best. If I was married to him, I'd probably have shot at him too...and for much less. David Wayne's performance as the next door neighbor smitten with Amanda is more annoying than funny. Tracy doesn't need the competition. The film would work just as well without this throw away subplot. It's clear Amanda only has eyes for one man, no matter how infuriating he might be. Overall, ADAM'S RIB is a clever, funny, well-written and acted piece of celluloid. If you are unfamiliar with the oncreen pairing of Tracy and Hepburn, you're definitely missing one of cinema's great romantic comedy duos. You have your choice of nine films to watch their magic together, but I think ADAM'S RIB and WOMAN OF THE YEAR are two of their best.

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