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1 review, 2 user ratings

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Adam's Rib
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by Jay Seaver

"Not exactly a trial to watch."
3 stars

"Adam's Rib" opens with a darkly funny sequence, as wronged wife and mother Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) follows her husband Warren (Tom Ewell), trying to work up the nerve to shoot him. The outcome is not much in doubt - if no-one gets shot, there's no reason for the rest of the movie - but it's arguably the high point of the movie, even though enough jokes still work for it to amuse.

The story of the Attingers is front page news in New York City, and the district attorney assigns one of his best men, Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy), to prosecute it. It appears to be open and shut, at least until Adam's wife Amanda (Katharine Hepburn) inserts herself. Sympathetic toward Doris, she points out that society has often looked the other way when cuckolded men take their vengeance, and attempts to secure the same sort of treatment for Doris, even if she has to turn the trial into a circus to do it.

It's possible to do a "battle of the sexes" movie that doesn't come off as unfair, even when appraised with a later, more progressive eye - Tracy and Hepburn actually made a decent stab at it earlier in the decade with Woman of the Year - but Adam's Rib[/I} is certainly not it. Sure, Hepburn's Amanda is perhaps played as the more capable of the Bonners, but it's a rare moment when Amanda is the one making the reasonable argument or doing the reasonable thing while Adam goes too far. That's not inherently a bad thing, but the script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin often crosses the line from madcap to mean. This is meant to be a romantic comedy, but the antics on display do less to demonstrate why they love each other than to indicate that they must, because otherwise why put up with this?

So, yes, that's a big problem right in the middle of the movie. Fortunately, it's something that the picture can by and large overcome because the cast and crew are filled with talented people. The producers famously raided Broadway to fill out its supporting cast, and while the roles don't exactly need top performers because of their tremendous emotional complexity, they're good comic performances: Judy Holliday, for instance, is genuinely fantastic in that opening scene; she and director George Cukor make Doris plenty nervous but also put just the right hint of genuine danger in. David Wayne has a certain stock type of character to play - the leading lady's snooty, sarcastic best friend whose likely homosexuality only makes him seem more threatening to her husband - but he sets the standard for playing it. Tom Ewell and Jean Hagen make us think Warren and his lover Beryl more or less deserve each other; their every comment is even dumber and more insensitive than the last, but they've got a way of making it surprising all the same.

And then, of course, there are the leads. By this point, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn had been together off-screen for years and played opposite each other roughly a half-dozen times, and they do a fine job of playing to each other's strengths here. Tracy, as usual, is playing a man who always knows what The Right Thing to do is, but manages to keep from seeming too full of himself via charm and obvious affection for his girl. Hepburn, naturally, plays Amanda as rightfully sure of her considerable intelligence; she's potentially a real loose cannon, but she is able to give Amanda simultaneous righteous indignation and joy in her work that gets the audience behind her, even if it's not inclined to be.

A good cast and sure-handed direction by Cukor can make up for a lot of sins. There are bits of "Adam's Rib" that are ill-advised even by screwball standards, but also enough good, well-executed moments that it's no wonder that the movie is remembered well, often as an all-time classic.

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originally posted: 12/09/11 01:43:29
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User Comments

8/14/19 Anne Hepburn continually anorexically strident and annoying, didn't watch to the end 1 stars
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  DVD: 19-Sep-2000

  N/A (U)

  19-Jun-1950 (PG)

Directed by
  George Cukor

Written by
  Ruth Gordon
  Garson Kanin

  Spencer Tracy
  Katharine Hepburn
  Judy Holliday
  Tom Ewell
  David Wayne
  Jean Hagen

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