Romantic comedy

Proof that a Message Often Mars the Enjoyment

Adam's Rib Courtroom Scene - Catherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.jpg

Adam’s Rib, the Catherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy vehicle from 1949 was a decent film, I guess.

Anyone who’s seen the two in action, and who knows of the off-stage relationship that fueled their on-stage chemistry, might be shaking their head at this point.  To a degree, they’d be absolutely correct in thinking that such a celebrated film with those actors has to be amazing.  You see, the acting is spectacular, the chemistry is obvious, and the comedy and acting are impeccable.

The problem is that the whole thing becomes strained by the film’s message.

Essentially, this is a movie about two lawyers.  One is a district attorney, the other is in private practice.  Everything is working beautifully until, out of an attack of feminist ideals, Hepburn’s character decides to defend a woman that Tracy’s character has put on trial because she shot her husband after finding him with another woman.  The attack was spectacularly botched, but no one doubts that she did, in fact, go after the couple with a gun.

The femenist argument here is that men in similar situations had been acquitted, but that society winked when men sowed their wild oats, so that the woman in question would be unfairly condemned.

While the argument has merit, the situation in the film is strained to the point of being uncomfortable.  The only thing that saves the film from utter disaster is that Hepburn is brilliant in the role, and that the comedy allows one to get past the more painfully embarrasing scenes.

The courtroom scenes could have made for a wonderful, inspiring drama.  The comedy duo, as they proved many times, were capable of unforgettable and enjoyable films.  But the combination, and making the husband and wife team the center of the conflict backfired spectacularly.

The good thing about watching the 1001 movies with my wife is that we don’t have the same taste, so I can often use her as a yardstick with regards to whether I’m reading the whole thing completely wrong.  Her response to this one was, just like mine, “meh.”

After watching Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, a lesser comedy will always disappoint.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His latest book is a collection of dark fantasy stories entitled Pale Reflection.  Buy it here!

A Quaint Haunting

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If anyone had told me the plot of The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947) before I watched it, I would have put this film off time and time again.  You see it’s a love story between a ghost and a living woman… an anyone alive in the 90s will have been put off the genre forever by that vomit-inducing, melodramatic chick-flick, Ghost.

I’m glad no one did.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir is, you see, a good film.  A romantic comedy which, despite its California filming locale has an unmistakably 19th century British feel to it.  As a comedy, it works reasonably well, with a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, but it certainly isn’t trying to be one of those slapstick overloads.  It’s more low-key, with the comic elements taking a back burner while the story is front and center.  In this, it apparently differs from the 1968 sitcom, but, as I haven’t seen that one, I can’t really give an opinion.

And the story defies the expectations of modern audiences; instead of finding some workaround to make the romance function and give everyone a happy ending, the film gives us an ending we can believe in, while still satisfying the desire to feel good about it in the end.

I have to give this one two thumbs up for being a ghost story that is neither hardcore horror or impossibly overwrought melodrama.  It’s a keeper, and recommended, and yet another of those films which I never wold have discovered without the 1001 movies list.  So doubly happy to have seen it.

Also, it features a very, very young Natalie Wood as Mrs Muir’s daughter as a child…  She was already getting high billing in the credits, even then.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  He is the author of Siege.