Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated but probably PG for thematic material and mild language
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Katherine Houghton, Sidney Poitier, Isabel Sanford, Cecil Kellaway, Beah Richards
Director: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: William Rose
Review published November 13, 2003
Although some see Guess Who's Coming to Dinner as a dated film, I think it's unfair to regard it as such. Perhaps it carries more weight during the time of its release, where bigotry was much more rampant in the country at large, but bigotry still exists today. Besides, there are other types of relationships just as taboo today as the interracial one back then, so the themes can be easily translated to this: if two people fall in love with one another and are willing to sacrifice everything, what's to keep them apart?
Real-life couple Spencer Tracy (Judgment at Nuremberg, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World) and Katherine Hepburn (Bringing Up Baby, The African Queen) play fictitious couple Matt and Christina Drayton, living in a posh penthouse in San Francisco awaiting the return of their beloved daughter, Joanna (Katherine Houghton, Hepburn's real-life niece) from her lengthy vacation. It seems that Joey has brought her new beau along, a philanthropic doctor named John Prentice (Poitier, The Defiant Ones), for the purposes of introducing him to the folks before they get married, which they intend to do ASAP. This comes as a surprise and a shock to Joey's parents because it was unexpected, not only because of the speed of the relationship, but the fact that John is a Black man. The Draytons had brought up their daughter without prejudice, but now they must confront their own, and find themselves in a situation where they must risk hurting their daughter by not allowing the marriage for fear of what society will do to them.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner garnered 10 Academy Award nominations, winning two (Hepburn and screenwriter Rose, The Ladykillers), but this isn't really a work of art being applauded so much as Hollywood patting itself on the back for finally addressing interracial relationships in a meaningful way. Ironically, Poitier failed to get nominated altogether, probably because nominators were split as to whether he was a lead actor or a supporting one, and instead nominated Tracy as the lead and Kellaway as the supporting actor, and although both deserved it, Sidney did as well. The Best Picture and Best Director nods were probably token, but the one quibble I would have is the nomination for the one very dated aspect of the film, Frank De Vol's hideous musical score, which is like nails across the chalkboard whenever it appears, coating the best scenes with cheese. You'll be tempted to take a hammer to your head just trying to get "Glory of Love" out of your mind long after it's over.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a solid film, and the performances are the main centerpiece, turning what might have been a schmaltzy, preachy fluff film into something of weightier substance. It may feel like a filmed play, but with the finest of actors, and fans of any of the cast will be pleased the most. It was also Spencer Tracy's final film, dying soon afterward, but it was as fine a performance as anyone could ask for. Although most people who are watching this today may be doing so for their college studies on race relations or films of the Sixties, it's smart and witty enough for anyone else looking for some good entertainment with a great cast.
-- Remade in 2005 with the races reversed as Guess Who.
©2003 Vince Leo