Pros: Spencer Tracy, Hepburn, Poitier
Cons: Katherine Houghton, musical score, dated attitudes/condescension
1967’s Guess Who's Coming to Dinner directed by Stanley Kramer was the 2nd most popular U.S. film of the year (Bonnie and Clyde was #3, The Graduate #1) and it was quite dated even as it was released but as Kramer knew it was a movie American audiences needed.
Everyone knew it would be Spencer Tracy last movie which made audiences pay closer attention to the well-liked and revered actor.
Of course you know this was not a Tracy -Hepburn romantic comedy, but a message movie about mixed marriages. It is a well-intentioned film full of ‘heart’ hoping to connect that LOVE conquers all. Why should the color of skin matter when people love each other? It does of course, more so in ’67.
Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn (who loved each other in real life even through Tracy was married and would never leave his family) play the very successful Matt and Christina Drayton, who live in an expensive penthouse in San Francisco and are waiting for their daughter Joanna (played by a rather bland Katherine Houghton-Hepburn's actual niece) to return home after a long vacation. Jo has brought along a friend, a very caring special doctor by the name of John Prentice. They intend to get married . The news comes as a shock to Christina, because not only did the couple just recently meet, but John is black. Sidney Poitier plays John Prentice. He is superb in his role but oddly enough did not get nominated for an Oscar (he had won previously for Lillies of the Field.)
Christina is okay with the marriage, but they will have to break it to Matt (dad)very carefully and in the right way. Then the parents need to meet each other.
Hollywood patted itself on the back for delivering a well-made and socially responsible message movie and it was nominated for 10 Oscars. Hepburn, Tracy, screenwriter Rose and Cecil Kellaway (who plays a monsignor in favor of the marriage) were among those nominated. It was also Best Picture and Best Director as well.
There's some humor as it develops. The parents meet, talk about the situation and the issue of race though delicately handled is raised directly by Mr. Prentice (Roy E. Glenn Sr.) and it’s debated on an intellectual and emotional level.
The move gets more serious and RESPONSIBLE as it progresses. A few lines are certainly political incorrect and you’ll shake your head remembering perhaps a bigoted relative. You also have a truly terrible musical score by Frank De Vol which features the sappy ‘Glory of Love’song.
The ending doesn’t wrap everything up neatly which some thought was a cheat, but others believed it praise-worthy. Leave something for the audience to think about, discuss..
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a dated, talky message movie with strong performances. It remains interesting, and pretty entertaining to watch today—though it’s slow with an awful music score.