Down From the Shelf ~ Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Matt and Christina Drayton are a couple whose attitudes are challenged when their daughter brings home a fiancé who is black.

Stars: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier, Beah Richards, Isabel Sanford, Katharine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway

Director: Stanley Kramer

Rated: PG

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: With the topic of gay marriage becoming a major discussion point in nearly every election cycle, seeing this movie for the first time brought me back to a point in history when a very different (yet equally important) definition  of marriage was taking place.  Viewing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner now, the film does seem dated because the concept of a black man marrying a white woman is so much a part of our culture now that it’s hard to imagine a time it wasn’t.  That’s not to say I don’t recognize that the struggle for racial equality doesn’t continue to be a factor in our society today…I do. 

I wouldn’t say the film was ahead of its time because the ideas it represents were on the minds of the public when this was released.  I do believe that the involvement of Tracy, Hepburn, and Poitier was imperative in getting the film made, though.  Their work here is stellar stuff with Hepburn taking another Oscar for her role as a concerned but understanding mother to a daughter that brings her fiancé (Poitier) home to meet her family.  With his family unexpectedly coming in to town both sets of parents have little time to take in the news before they are meeting their supposed future in-laws.

Even dealing with such a sensitive subject, the first 2/3 of the movie has an easy tone to it.  I was surprised that this didn’t exist as a play originally because so much of the film has a stage vibe to it.  Nearly the entire action takes place within the confines of Tracy and Hepburn’s California home and though it ventures out every now and then we mostly stay put. 

Where I had the most trouble was in the final scenes.  That’s when the movie morphs into a Message Movie…culminating with a supposedly impromptu speech by Tracy that drags on for nearly five minutes.  All of the ideas and ideals of the film come pouring out, disclosing that the movie does have an agenda and by God they are going to get it across.  Maybe during this period of time that is the way that a message was effectively delivered to the public…but I have a feeling there was a better way to do it.  Even before Tracy’s speech there are several characters that go from people real people to more faces in the crowd type mouthpieces.

 I’ll admit, I lost a little respect for the movie during these scenes.   Why not follow through with the picture they originally started off making and continue to showcase the slice of life situations these parents find themselves in.  It felt like there wasn’t enough faith in the material to stay with it and a safer road was decided upon.

There’s no doubt that this is a classic piece of cinema that deservedly was up for multiple Oscars…many of which were for the performances.  Tracy died before this was released and he really did go out with a bang.  I would have rather his performance been honored over Hepburn’s – he is the true center of the piece and while his speech at the end invoked my ire, there’s no denying his performance was worthy.