Saturday, March 4, 2017

Chris' #98: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer, 1967)

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton
Director: Stanley Kramer
Writer: William Rose
Release Date: December 11, 1967

First Time
This was another Netflix DVD rental, at some point between 2006 and April 2011. I checked my CR5FC blog and didn't see any mention of it, and I started blogging in 2011. I remember watching this by myself. (what a loser)

Why it's on the List
Mostly because of the performances of the three main stars. Poitier is very charming, Tracy has some great comedic moments, and I feel that Hepburn gives one of her better performances in this one. Hepburn has great range, and she really puts that on display here. Matt and Christina Drayton are complicated characters, and Tracy and Hepburn are able to add even more depth with their performances.

One of my all-time favorite Spencer Tracy scenes is in this movie, and it's not his speech at the end (which is phenomenal, by the way). I'm referring to when Matt and Christina go out for ice cream. Tracy turns his "old coot" dial up to 10 and speaks to a young waitress as if she knows him and she remembers the ice cream flavor he ordered the last time he was there. Always makes me smile and laugh. And I like that the movie mixes those comedic moments in with heavier subject matter.

***Sociopolitical Section***
This movie isn't without its critics, and not in the way that most people would think. This year marks the 50-year anniversary of its release, and the LA Times had a write-up about it. I guess I was surprised to read that people thought it was behind the times in 1967. I believe IMDB says that Loving v. Virginia had already been ruled on by the time this was released. While that is true, it certainly wasn't written or filmed before that Supreme Court ruling. And just because interracial marriages were no longer illegal, it doesn't mean that people were suddenly cool with it. It sounds as if the critics who said it was behind the times were living in a bubble. I know liberal people now who have slight issues when they see black men with white women.

James Baldwin's criticism of the movie, specifically Sidney Poitier's character, was more appropriate. He noted that Poitier's character is an impossible standard to set for the black community. And he's absolutely right. Dr. John Prentice is a saint and he shouldn't have to be one to win white liberals over.

And in terms of the film's message, I would argue that it is mostly directed at white liberals anyway. Hardcore racists aren't going to see this movie and think, "I need to change my ways." The movie is pretty delicate in tone (which feels weird to say of 1967), but largely because it's an appeal to white, liberal parents anyway. At one point, Katharine Houghton says to Katharine Hepburn something along the lines of, "You raised me to see everyone equally, so you shouldn't be surprised that I do." Maybe it's not enough to try and appeal to such a narrow audience, but white liberals need to be confronted with their own racism as well. We should be cognizant of our own racist thoughts/feelings, however small, and challenge them.

Additional Notes/Stats

  • This movie also feels like a value pick; I get Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier all in one. And unfortunately, this is the only time that they'll appear on my list.
  • Tracy/Hepburn were great together. I need to re-watch Adam's RibDesk Set, and Pat & Mike sometime soon. It's been too long. Also need to see more of Poitier.
  • I'm going to try to watch the movies on my list before I post them. That way, I'll be able to decide whether to move them up or down my list. 98 is a good spot for GWCTD. I'd probably keep the movie around that spot since, while I really enjoy it, there are plenty of other movies that I love more.
  • Cant wait to see Get Out and hope to this weekend.


  1. Stanley Kramer is often condemned as a well-meaning bleeding heart. I like the big moments in this, mostly because of the commitment of the actors. I also know it's unfashionable to suggest that movies can hold a sway over people's hearts and minds, but I certainly witnessed this particular movie's effect on my Italian conservative father. He loves it. It didn't magically transform all of his views or actions but it helped put him on the right track. That being said, I'm not a big fan. I think I need to revisit it. Good pick

  2. The well-meaning bleeding heart stuff is a fair criticism. I haven't seen too much of Kramer's other work. Not gonna defend him too much beyond this one. Nice to hear that about your Dad. Those hotheaded Italians, man, I tell ya...I mean...whoops.

  3. Brandon, the subtitle of my Top 100 list is "100 movies that swayed my heart and mind."

    Chris, Sidney Poitier was the best in the 70s in a few films he made with Bill Cosby. You've probably never seen them because you're not an authentic black man like me.

    My favorite is Let's Do It Again.