Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Movie Review: Adam's Rib (1949)


A serious comedy about the battle between the sexes, Adam's Rib examines the changing status of women through the story of married lawyers who face off in court. The sixth teaming of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy finds the couple in top form, playing off each other at home and at work.

Adam Bonner (Tracy) is an Assistant District Attorney married to Amanda (Hepburn), a lawyer who represents defendants. When Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) is arrested for shooting and injuring her cheating husband (Tom Ewell), Adam is assigned what seems to be a straightforward prosecution case. But Amanda is sympathetic to Doris' humiliation, and to Adam's horror decides to defend her.

Amanda bases her defence on equality between men and women, presenting Doris as a woman who was defending her family and marriage. Amanda argues that had Doris been a man defending his household, he would be perceived as heroic. As the case garners hysterical media attention, Amanda's well-articulated courtroom rage against inequality befuddles Adam, but also severely stresses their marriage.

With World War Two over and women beginning to feel empowered to seek a new role in society, Adam's Rib throws open the debate about changing societal attitudes towards the sexes. Written directly for the screen by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin and powered by a fearless Katharine Hepburn performance, Adam's Rib foreshadows a seismic shift towards feminism that would only come to pass some 15 years later.

Amanda is a confident professional, opinionated, eager to take on a case that appears doomed, and willing to risk the relationship with her husband to better the status of women. In the courtroom she is a formidable opponent, not above resorting to humiliating tricks to weaken Adam's case. She can also be coquettish and irresistible, but her charms begin to fall behind her determination. How far Amanda is willing to go to prove her point while inflicting increasing damage on Adam's ego becomes the central question in the movie.

Spencer Tracy brings his typical principled everyman persona to Adam, creating a perfect representation for all males. He has strong values, loves his wife and believes in the justice system, which makes Amanda's incessant barrage on her husband's position resonate with so much more poignancy.

While Adam will fight to the end to prove that his time-tested principles are not subject to Amanda's gender warfare arguments, in contrast other men are ready to fall down and die at the feet of Amanda's coming revolution. The Bonners' neighbour Kip Lurie (David Wayne) is openly in love with Amanda, and will worship the ground she walks on regardless of which metamorphosis she is advocating. Kip is a music composer and piano player, and so gets to warble the Cole Porter song Farewell, Amanda to express his unashamed devotion to his neighbour.

Director George Cukor keeps the pacing brisk and the mood light-hearted despite the serious subject matter.  He makes good use of some interesting editing and camera placements, keeping many scenes long between cuts and allowing the camera to sit and rest, a silent observer of a loving couple arguing their way towards a new society.

Adam's Rib pushes the pendulum of harmony between men and women sharply in one direction before nudging it back a bit, careful to ensure that one courtroom battle victory is not earned at the expense of destroying the foundations needed for a new and better relationship to thrive.






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