Woman of the Year (1942) starring Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn

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A poster for the film

Reportedly, Katharine Hepburn’s first words to her costar were, “Mr. Tracy, I believe I am too tall for you” (FYI: Hepburn was 5’9″ and Tracy was 5’10½”). Director George Stevens said, “Don’t worry, honey. He’ll soon cut you down to size.” Like the actors themselves did in real life, this is a story of opposites attracting. Even their acting styles were different- Hepburn loved to rehearse; Tracy usually got it on the first or second take. In their scenes together here (their first film pairing), you see the magic (love) happen… and it’s REAL! 

Tracy’s Sam Craig matched with Hepburn’s Tess Harding; his subtle, underplaying acting style with her stylized, personality-driven performance. It’s an acting tour de force, to be sure… In fact, their chemistry in this film is palpable. -Excerpt from IMDB review

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Sam takes Tess out to the ballgame (and she likes it)!

Are all these people unemployed? -Tess asks, surprised at the large crowd in the ballpark.

No, they’re all attending their grandmother’s funeral. -Sam replies.

After Tess Harding (Hepburn), a world-traveling journalist/commentator, makes some insensitive comments re: baseball on the radio, sports columnist Sam Craig (Tracy) criticizes her in his writing. A feud results, more papers get sold, and eventually, their editor brings them together to make peace. They see each other for the first time, sparks fly, and they go out to a ballgame. In a very short time, they fall deeply in love! Tess and Sam quickly marry and begin living together (in her apt.), BUT Sam soon discovers that his wife is so busy saving the world that she can’t make time for their relationship. After just a few months, Tess decides to take in Chris, a Greek refugee boy (w/o consulting Sam). This is the last straw for Sam, who decides to take drastic measures. 

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Sam and Tess embrace in the back of a taxi.

I’ve seen this film a FEW times over the years. What struck me during this viewing was how there was an imbalance in their jobs. Sure, they are BOTH smart, successful writers w/ respective fan followings. However, Tess is on another level (akin to Diane Sawyer in her prime). Her stories are usually on the front page of the paper. She speaks five languages (English, French, Russian, Spanish and Greek). Sam has a desk alongside a few other writers; Tess has a private office and a fastidious secretary, Gerald (a man). The subplot w/ Ellen (Tess’ maiden/feminist aunt) and her widowed father is a nice addition to the story.  

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Sam and Tess in his office at the newspaper

Hepburn never appeared softer, more vulnerable, less mannered… I fall in love with her all over again every time I watch it… Tracy, the most honest actor who ever lived. But not just that: there was his ability to delve seemingly without effort into an infinite bag of gestures & expressions & tones & just plain old-fashioned but highly manifest wisdom & come up with the most richly nuanced guy ever depicted onscreen. -Excerpt from IMDB review

The ending (last 15 mins.) of this film will NOT suit modern viewers (esp. women)- it’s rather disappointing! Stevens decided (with Mankiewicz) that Tess Harding had to have her comeuppance for the average American housewife to relate to her character; this is noted in A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn by Anne Edward. When Hepburn saw the changes, she commented that it was “sh*t.” Test audiences didn’t like the original ending, which showed BOTH Tess and Sam making compromises (NOT only Tess).  

 

 

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