Adam’s Rib (1949)

“Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is called in-breeding; from this comes idiot children… and other lawyers.”

‘Adam’s Rib’, directed by George Cukor in 1949, is an American courtroom comedy starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. The two actors play a husband and wife who are both lawyers. When a woman almost kills her husband after discovering his affair and suffering marital abuse, she is arrested. Amanda Bonner (Hepburn) agrees to defend her at the same time her husband Adam (Tracy) agrees to prosecute. The rest of the film follows the pair as the argue the case in court, explore the wider issue of the position of women in society and struggle with their own problems at home as the court case spills out into their private lives. It’s a rich and engaging movie – the second I’ve watched with Hepburn in a row. Such is her chemistry with Tracy (as with Grant in ‘Bringing up Baby’) that the pair and the long scenes of their debating are arguments are what make the film, and behind this plays out the court case and the accompanying social commentary. It’s a film that is threaded with an early feminism, not only with the case or the position and prestige of Amanda, but also with the presence and importance of Hepburn as an actress. The two actors are given equal weighting in the film, each allowed their own space to develop their characters and to display moments of emotional honesty. The domestic scenes with Adam and Amanda, as you would imagine from two actors who are in a relationship, feel natural and comfortable. Their spontaneous reactions to each other feel as ad-libbed as the acting in ‘Bringing up Baby’, but more subtle and gentle. The comedy is sharp and comes through the dialogue and the puncturing of the pomposity of the male characters in the film.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a smart, witty movie with two great performances. I’d suggest a double bill with ‘Bringing up Baby’ as a way of seeing Hepburn’s great range as an actress from flighty, agent of chaos to smart and controlled lawyer.

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