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Race relations dramas starring Sidney Poitier from the 1950s and 1960s generally haven't aged well with Lilies of the Field (1963), The Defiant Ones (1958) and this film in particular seeming patronizing and dated by today's standards. This film has the added weight of featuring Spencer Tracy in his last film role alongside longtime professional and personal partner Katharine Hepburn who would win an undeserved Academy Award for her performance. I would recommend that you watch the five to ten minutes of this film that are just Tracy and Hepburn interacting but failing that I would say go out and watch The Graduate (1967) before stepping near this very much a product of it's time film.
Twenty three year old white girl Joanna Drayton, Katharine Houghton, falls in love with older widowed doctor John Prentice, Sidney Poitier, who happens to be African-American. The two face many obstacles in getting married when they return to the United States as Prentice is determined to earn the approval of Drayton's parents, Matt, Spencer Tracy, and Christina, Katharine Hepburn, who each react differently to the news of their daughter's new romance. Matt is worried about the two of them getting married because they have only known each other for two weeks but Christina is trying her best to win him over. More drama is added to the mix when Prentice's parents are invited to dinner with the family and their own prejudices are revealed.
The first comment that I must make is that this a poorly made film from a technical standpoint. The sound cuts out at odd times, certain scenes run far too long and often end awkwardly on lines that don't wrap up conversations adequately. I expected at least a basic level of competence from a film that is so famous but this film didn't deliver as it seemed to rely on it's star wattage and the good will that it's intentions brought to the reception of the film to coast by. The film set also looks cheap as I never believed that the exterior of their house or their ‘view' was even remotely realistic and when considering the fact that this was made in 1967 I'm not as willing to cut it slack as I would be had it been made in the 1950s. This general shoddiness impacted how I viewed the film because it often distracted from the message the film was trying to send and the occasionally effecting performances.
Another big issue with the film is that it's one of those disgusting pictures that exploits a social issue by presenting two supposedly normal characters who eventually adopt a progressive view that is already held by the majority of the audience. In this way the film preaches to the converted, it is saying something that might have been genuinely controversial or refreshing a few generations beforehand but which was held by the majority of Hollywood in 1967. It's frustrating watch a film be so pleased with itself when what it does really isn't all that special or brave. Adding to my dislike of the way the film chooses to present it's social issue they attempt to equalize whites and blacks by portraying the African-American characters as being equally as prejudiced as Matt and Christina. They never really flesh out this plotline and it feels like a strange deflection from the fact that the majority of racism between white Americans and African-Americans comes from the white Americans.
There is also something lacking in the performances as Hepburn and Tracy are occasionally a delight to watch but are used too sparingly to save such a weak film and Houghton and Poitier fail to inject any real spirit into their performances. Houghton seems unable to deliver her lines convincingly as she flits about and uses as many hand gestures as her famous aunt does but doesn't possess the dramatic heft or the knowing humor to pull of this act. She and Poitier also fail to generate any chemistry which makes it difficult for us to feel any real dramatic tension because we don't really care if they end up together. The amount of Academy Award nominations this film received was a crime and it is quite obvious that Anne Bancroft deserved the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in The Graduate (1967).
The best scenes in the film will only leave you reminiscing about the classic romantic comedies that Hepburn and Tracy appeared in together and in that case I would tell you to see Desk Set (1957) and Adam's Rib (1949) before going near this dud.
I was surprised at how not-dated this movie was from the Sixties about an interracial couple and the way they navigate introducing each other to their liberal, open-minded parents. It dealt with racial issues in a modern, mature way, and the drama, quite theatre-like, was compelling throughout.
Almost dreadful in every way. Cowardly even back in ‘67. Katherine Houghton gives one of the most dreadful performances in films. Why is she not called out on it by critics? I cringe when I remember her sickening delivery of the line ‘Oh mom! Isn’t it THRILLING?’ Only saved by the performances of Hepburn and Tracy. But deserving of Zero Oscars. An embarrassment all around.
It would be completely understandable if anyone criticized this movie for playing it very safe after taking some severe risks at the beginning, and that in doing so the story not only became progressively formulaic; but the characters appeared to be stereotyped and, worst of all, self-contradictory and inconsistent.
That said, the acting here is undoubtedly more than enough to overcome these issues and redeem them, nay, to totally justify these seemingly nonsensical changes and alterations that happened to some of the characters, most noticeably Matt and Christina Drayton. I have seen a lot of great performances that are able to elevate the characters and even the entire movie in general. But, frankly, I have never seen any performance, no matter how superb it may be, that can convince me of what I considered an unmistakably major flaw. What makes me appreciate the acting, in particular, in this movie is that it opened my eyes to some hidden underlying themes of the movie's story, which are more than fundamental to understand the movie properly. If the fabulously realistic and sincere performances, somehow, didn't do the same for you, I suggest you try you figure out some key themes to consider them as you're watching the movie. Two of the most important themes are; the late resurgence of the inherited awful traditions and beliefs, and the undiscovered hypocrisy. Yes, that's how profound this apparently simple film actually is! Of course, the shift in Matt Drayton's attitude could have been executed way more smoothly and maturely; but the abrupt nature of the changes could be fairly, if not quite easily, taken as a reflection of the character's disorder.
Spencer Tracy, in his final role, gave, for lack of a better word, a mature performance that made his character surprisingly believable despite its outwardly incompatible attitudes that made the character of Matt Drayton seem to be immensely problematic. Sidney Poitier's performance, as the handsome African-American Dr. John Prentice, is solid, steady, committed, engaging and relatable at the same time. Katharine Houghton captured the rebelliousness, impetuousness, and also the innocence of her character, Joey, so perfectly. She reminded me quite a bit of another Katharine; Katharine Ross as Elaine Robinson in The Graduate, which was, also coincidentally, released at the same year, 1967. But it's Katharine Hepburn who stole the show here with her Oscar-winning performance that I personally consider as one of the best low-key performances in a leading female role I've ever seen in film!
I would be lying if I said that I found the second half of the movie half as entertaining and riveting. Nevertheless, the dialogue was much better at the second half (the final monologue is simply remarkable!) as it was at the first, which is noticeably elevated by, once again, the incredible acting.
The movie is decidedly filled with stereotypical characters, but the only one that bothered me is the maid, Tillie, whom I didn't find to be funny at all; actually she is quite annoying. Her character's motivations and attitudes are justified, though.
Guess Whoâ(TM)s Coming to Dinner is an essential classic 1960s film, and one of the best films that examine prejudice and racism; it tackles its weighty themes with surprising depth, humor and breeziness. It's also very relevant nowadays. And there is no doubt that it has major influences on hundreds of movies that came after it, especially today's.
Classic Hepburn/Tracy film with Sidney Poitier as the dinner guest of the title. Always enjoy the stellar performances of these actors.
Great content and performances.
Funny, with important information and moving relationships. Best movie ever.
This movie is one of the best I've seen in regard to race relations. It doesn't shy away from the prejudice and racism that is prevalent within each race, not just the racism observed in the white man. I loved how the John character noted the insignificance of race. You don't get your worth from where you were born or the race you descended from, because you earn honor from how you act as an honorable man or woman and you have worth as a human no matter how much pigment you have. Pride of race is unnecessary and often leads to a sense of superiority over other races, or a need to ascribe to victimhood. This film also notes that you can not be on the moral high ground as a hypocrite, you need to have actions that follow your beliefs. The cinematography was great for the time as well, very colorful. An absolutely lovely movie.
AFI 100 Greatest Films - #99: This was a tough film to rate as the acting was top notch but the story felt forced and predictable at times. Despite appearing extremely outdated when viewing today, the crux of the message is still important any day. Could easily have made this a 3* but the acting, all around, was so superb at times I felt the 3.5* was eventually well earned.
I knew a lot about Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner before I sat down to watch it, and my biggest concern was whether they could keep such a simple premise interesting for that long. Not only does the movie manage to be interesting, it is delightful for the entire runtime. There are so many moments that will stick with me because they made me laugh, cry, or cheer. The movie includes people who are on every side when it comes to views on interracial relationships, so it feels like it should speak to all audiences (except the Hilary St. George’s of the world who can shut up and go away.) There is so much heart to this movie, because the characters clearly love one another dearly. Fathers and mothers love their children despite everything, husbands and wives love one another more than they can say, and even friends are loved like family. I felt like this entire movie embraced me like a warm hug, despite the hot-button issue that is at the center of it all. One big reason Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is so successful is that amazing cast. Sidney Poitier has immeasurable charm and uses it to make the point that he’s just a man and he shouldn’t be defined by his color. He makes for a nice grounded counterpoint to Katharine Houghton’s bubbly lightness. Katharine Hepburn is astounding, and says so many things with just her eyes. You can see her opinions change as the film progresses without her needing to say how she’s feeling. Spencer Tracy is left with one of the toughest roles of the whole movie. It is remarkable how he is able to be the main character who is opposed to the wedding, sounding like a complete hypocrite, and yet still be sympathetic. Roy Glenn and Beah Richards don’t get as much screen-time, but their impact is vital to the film as well, and they both get important scenes when they arrive. Not to mention Cecil Kellaway who had one of my favorite moments in the entire film. I know there will be audiences who will not gravitate to this style of movie. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner establishes its premise early and then spends the rest of the time with characters just talking it through. It feels like a stage play because so much of the film takes place in one house, and there is not much action aside from walking around. The closest they come to a stunt was a fender-bender between two cars at an ice cream parlor. However, when the dialogue is written this well, I don’t care one bit. I was riveted as much as I am watching Die Hard. I can’t say enough about the big speeches in this movie. Almost every character in the film gets their moment to let loose with a monologue at some point. They are written so well that they help define the character who is giving the speech, and also articulate an important point related to the central conflict of the film. I don’t know how much more I can say about Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. It blew me away, and I now need to own it so I can watch it 10 more times at least.