Woman of the Year

MGM

The first teaming of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, “Woman of the Year,” began a long collaborative process that would include eight more films and a legendary off screen romance that would last until the death of Tracy (who was always married) in 1967.

The movie, written by Ring Lardner and directed by George Stevens, who had previously helmed “Alice Adams,” one of Hepburns best films, set the pattern for the couples future and better comedies, such as Adams Rib and Pat and Mike, both directed by George Cukor.

Hepburn was instrumental in getting the script done, selling it to Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM for an unprecedented $100,000 (after the success of her previous deal with Metro, The Philadelphia Story), and demanded that her leading man be Tracy. She also managed to offend her fave director George Cukor (who had discovered her), favoring Stevens because he was more macho and thus more suitable to direct a story set in the sports world.

Tracy plays Sam Craig, a rough-edged, non-nonsense sportswriter for a New York newspaper, and Hepburn is Tess Harper, a sophisticated journalist writing an international column for the same paper. Opposites attract. Upon meeting, despite some differences, they fall for each other, begin to court and get married.

Their marital bliss doesnt last long and their different values begin to exert tension on their union. When Tess is voted the outstanding woman of the year, the upset Sam walks out on her and gets drunk.

In his absence, the utmost professional Tess writes the column for Sam, and though he becomes the laughingstock of the sports world, her gesture serves as reconciliatory move, bringing the two of them together again.

Much attention has been devoted to the scene in which Tess tries to cook a breakfast for Sam and makes a mess, implying that a career woman cant have everything and cant be good in the more traditionally feminine domains, the kitchen. Yet a closer look reveals that the scene is more ambiguous and thus open to various interpretations.

The chemistry, both tension and attraction, between Tracy and Hepburn shows on screen from their very first scene together. They seem to have good time together, and they take turns, playing straight for each other. Stevens, a master of staging strong romantic scenes, gets one love scene thats particularly erotic. With these two thesps, what could have been a routine romantic comedy turns into something better and more poignant.

At the time, “Woman of the Year” was praised by most critics, earning an Oscar nomination for Hepburn and an Oscar Award for the screenplay, but it’s an overestimated picture, and certainly not the best of director Stevens or stars.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 2

Actress: Katharine Hepburn
Screenplay (Original): Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin

Oscar Awards: 1

Screenplay

Oscar Context:

In 1942, the Best Actress Oscar went to Greer Garson for the title role in MGMs schmaltzy war melodrama, Mrs. Miniver, which swept most of the Oscars, including Best Picture.

Remake Alert

In 1957, Minnelli directed an unofficial remake titled Designing Woman, a pale imitation of the 1942 picture with Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall in the Tracy Hepburn parts.

Women of the Year was made into a successful Broadway musical starring Lauren Bacall, who won the Tony Award for her performance.
History Alert

Writer Ring Lardner was blacklisted for his refusal to testify before the HUAAC, but made a credited comeback in the 1960s with the Steve McQueen vehicle The Cincinnati Kid, and Altmans M.A.S.H., for which he won a second writing Oscar.

Credits

Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Directed by George Stevens
Screenplay (Original): Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin
Camera: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editing: Frank Sullivan
Music: Franz Waxman
Art director: Cedric Gibbons
Set decoration: Edwin B. Willis
Costumes: Adrian

Release date: February 1942

Running Time: 112 minutes

Cast:

Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy)
Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn)
Ellen Whitcomb (Fay Bainter)
Clayton (Reginald Owen)
William Harding (Minor Watson)
Pinkie Peters (William Bendix)
Dr. Lubbeck (Ludwig Stoessel)
Flo Peters (Gladys Blake)

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