Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner poster.jpg
Original movie poster
Directed byStanley Kramer
Produced byStanley Kramer
Written byWilliam Rose
StarringSpencer Tracy
Sidney Poitier
Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Houghton
Beah Richards
Roy E. Glenn
Music byFrank DeVol
CinematographySam Leavitt
Edited byRobert C. Jones
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date(s)
  • December 12, 1967 (1967-12-12) (United States)
Running time108 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$4 million
Box office$56,666,667 (Domestic)[2]
$70,000,000 (Worldwide)[3]
 
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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner poster.jpg
Original movie poster
Directed byStanley Kramer
Produced byStanley Kramer
Written byWilliam Rose
StarringSpencer Tracy
Sidney Poitier
Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Houghton
Beah Richards
Roy E. Glenn
Music byFrank DeVol
CinematographySam Leavitt
Edited byRobert C. Jones
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date(s)
  • December 12, 1967 (1967-12-12) (United States)
Running time108 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$4 million
Box office$56,666,667 (Domestic)[2]
$70,000,000 (Worldwide)[3]

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American comedy-drama film starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn, and featuring Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton. The film contains a (then rare) positive representation of the controversial subject of interracial marriage, which historically had been illegal in most states of the United States, and still was illegal in 17 states—mostly Southern states—until 12 June 1967, six months before the film was released, roughly two weeks after Tracy filmed his final scene (and two days after his death), when anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia. The film was produced and directed by Stanley Kramer and written by William Rose. The movie's Oscar-nominated score was composed by Frank DeVol.[4]

The film is notable for being the ninth and final on-screen pairing of Tracy and Hepburn, with filming ending just 17 days before Tracy's death. Hepburn never saw the completed film,[5] saying the memories of Tracy were too painful. The film was released in December 1967, six months after his death.[6]

Plot[edit]

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as Christina and Matt Drayton. The film tells the story of Joanna "Joey" Drayton (Katharine Houghton), a young white woman who has had a whirlwind romance with Dr. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), a young, idealistic black physician she met while in Hawaii.

The plot centers on Joanna’s return to her liberal upper-class American home in San Francisco, bringing her new fiancé, a young, idealistic black physician, to dinner to meet her parents, newspaper publisher Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) and his wife, art gallery owner Christina Drayton (Katharine Hepburn).[7]

Brought up by her parents as a liberal, Joanna finds it difficult to comprehend the behavior of her parents upon meeting John. While they taught her to treat black people and members of other racial groups as equals, they cannot accept their daughter's actions, for they did not expect her to introduce to them a black man as their future son-in-law. Without Joanna's knowledge, John tells the Draytons that he will not marry their daughter if they object to the marriage. But, he adds, their decision must come before he leaves for Switzerland that evening for three months, during which time the couple plan to marry. Adding to the pressure of this time constraint, John's parents (Roy E. Glenn, Beah Richards) fly up from Los Angeles to the Draytons' dinner that evening, but don't know that Joanna is white until they meet her at the airport. Monsignor Ryan (Cecil Kellaway), a Catholic priest and friend of Matt's, is also present at dinner and is a voice for tolerance.

The film depicts the reaction of their family and friends, and the discomfort of their parents, as all try to accept the couple's choice. The main characters begin to pair off in various private conversations with each other about the situation. Finally, Matt Drayton makes his decision and in a dramatic monologue approves the marriage. The film also touches on black-on-black racism when John is taken to task by his father and the household maid Tillie (Isabel Sanford) for his perceived presumptions.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Production list[8]

According to Kramer, he and Rose intentionally structured the film to debunk ethnic stereotypes. The young doctor, a typical role for the young Sidney Poitier, was purposely created idealistically perfect, so that the only possible objection to his marrying Joanna would be his race, or the fact she had only known him for ten days: the character has thus graduated from a top school, begun innovative medical initiatives in Africa, refused to have premarital sex with his fiancée despite her willingness, and leaves money in an open container on his future father-in-law's desk in payment for a long distance phone call he has made. Kramer and Rose completed the film script in five weeks.[9]

Kramer stated later that the principal actors believed so strongly in the premise that they agreed to act in the project even before seeing the script. Production had been set for January 1967 and ended on May 24, 1967.[10] Spencer Tracy was dying and insurance companies refused to cover him. Kramer and Hepburn put their salaries in escrow so that if he died, filming could be completed with another actor. According to Kramer, "'You're never examined for insurance until a few weeks before a picture starts. [Even] with all his drinking and ailments, Tracy always qualified for insurance before, so nobody thought it would be a problem in this case. But it was. We couldn't get insurance for Spence. The situation looked desperate. So then we figured out a way of handling it. Kate and I put up our own salaries to compensate for the lack of an insurance company for Spence. And we were allowed to proceed.'"[11]

The filming schedule was altered to accommodate Tracy's failing health.[12] All of Tracy's scenes and shots were filmed between 9:00 AM and noon of each day in order to give him adequate time to rest.[9] For example, most of Tracy's dialogue scenes were filmed in a such a way that during close-ups on other characters, a stand-in was substituted for him.[13]

Tracy's failing health was more serious than most people are aware of. According to Poitier: "The illness of Spencer dominated everything. I knew his health was very poor and many of the people who knew what the situation was didn't believe we'd finish the film, that is, that Tracy would be able to finish the film. Those of us who were close knew it was worse than they thought. Kate brought him to and from the set. She worked with him on his lines. She made sure with [Stanley] Kramer that his hours were right for what he could do, and what he couldn't do was different each day. There were days when he couldn't do anything. There were days when he was great, and I got the chance to know what it was like working with Tracy."[14]

A bust of Tracy sculpted by Hepburn herself was used as a prop, on the bookshelf behind the desk where Sidney Poitier makes his phone call. Tracy died two weeks after he completed his work on the film.[15]

Hepburn significantly helped cast her niece, Katharine Houghton, for the role of Joey Drayton. Concerning this, Hepburn stated: "There was a lovely part for Kathy [Houghton], my niece [...] She would play Spencer's and my daughter. I loved that. She's beautiful and she definitely had a family resemblance. It was my idea."[16]

According to Hepburn, the role of Joey Drayton would be one of Houghton's first major roles as a young actress. "The part of my daughter," Kate said, "was a difficult one. A young unknown actress needs more opportunity to win the sympathy of the audience. Otherwise, too much has to depend on her youth, innocence, and beauty. She had one good speech to win the audience, but it was cut. Instead she only talks with her father about the differences between the principles he taught her and the way he's behaving."[17]

Poitier frequently found himself starstruck and as a result, a bit tongue-tied, in the presence of Hepburn and Tracy, whom he considered to be "giants" as far as acting is concerned.[18] However, Poitier reportedly found a way to overcome his nerves. "When I went to play a scene with Tracy and Hepburn, I couldn't remember a word. Finally Stanley Kramer said to me, 'What are we going to do?' I said, 'Stanley, send those two people home. I will play the scene against two empty chairs. I don't want them here because I can't handle that kind of company.' He sent them home. I played the scene in close-up against two empty chairs as the dialogue coach read Mr. Tracy's and Miss Hepburn's lines from off camera."[18]

Given the tense nature of race relations in America during the time of the film's production, Poitier felt he was "under close observation" by both Tracy and Hepburn during their first dinner meetings prior to production.[19] But he swiftly won them over. Due to Tracy and Hepburn's close history with Kramer, Poitier cited that Hepburn and Tracy came to bear on him "the kind of respect they had for Kramer, and they had to say to themselves (and I'm sure they did), this kid has to be pretty okay, because Stanley is nuts about working with him".[20]

Release[edit]

The film premiered in theaters on January 1, 1968. The film falls into the genre of comedy drama.[21] The film was released on VHS on December 12, 1987,[22] on the twentieth anniversary of the original release. The film was released on DVD on May 22, 2001.[23]

Reviews and reception[edit]

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was a box-office hit in 1968 throughout the United States, including in southern states where it was traditionally assumed that few white filmgoers would want to see any film with black leads. The success of this film challenged that assumption in film marketing.[24] Despite this success, which included numerous film award nominations, Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote in November 2008 that the film was frequently labeled as dated among liberals. Another main point of contention was the fact that Poitier's character, the golden future son-in-law, had no flaws and a resume of good deeds that could fill an entire volume. Many people felt that the dynamic between the Draytons and Poitier's character would have inevitably resulted in a happily-ever-after film ending because Poitier's character was so perfect, respectable, likable, and proper. Some people went as far as saying Prentice was "too white" not to be accepted by the Draytons.[25]

The release of the film in the US gave Poitier his third box-office success in six months in 1967,[23] all of which placed the race of Poitier's character at issue.

In a review of the film by The New York Times, Lawrence Van Gelder wrote: "the suspicion arises that were the film made today its makers would come to grips a good deal more bluntly with the problems of intermarriage. Still, this remains a deft comedy and - most of all - a paean to the power of love."[26]

Variant versions[edit]

The original version of the film that played in theaters in 1968 contained a moment in which Tillie responds to the question "Guess who's coming to dinner now." with the sarcastic one-liner: "The Reverend Martin Luther King?" After King's assassination on April 4, 1968, this line was removed from the film, so by August 1968, almost all theaters' showings of this film had this line omitted. As early as 1969, the line was restored to many but not all prints, and the line was preserved in the VHS and DVD versions of the film as well.

Awards and honors[edit]

Wins[edit]

The film won two Academy Awards and two BAFTAs:[27]

Nominations[edit]

American Film Institute recognition[edit]

Remakes[edit]

Stanley Kramer directed a remake for television in 1975.[30]

In 2003, comedian Daniele Luttazzi published the screenplay Tabù, an almost verbatim parody of the film. In the variation, the engaged lovers are aged 40 (him) and 12 (her), and are brother and sister.[31]

The 2005 film Guess Who starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac is a loose remake styled as a comedy rather than a drama, with the racial roles reversed: black parents are caught off-guard when their daughter brings home the young white man she has chosen to marry. Talking about the film, Bernie Mac told USA Today in 2003, "Interracial dating is not that significant anymore." In the article, the writer cites that during the time at which the original movie was filmed, "interracial marriage was considered risky." Casting for Mac's remake of the film began in November 2003. Mac said of the script, "They want to make it a comedy, but I won't disrespect Spencer, Katharine or Sidney (Poitier)."[32]

The Irish writer Roddy Doyle wrote a short story by the same title about an Irish girl who brings home an immigrant from Nigeria, published in 2008 in the collection The Deportees.[33]

The plot is very similar to another film, Crossroads, made by the Canadian director Don Haldane a decade earlier in 1957. In this film, a young white woman in Toronto surprises her mother with her black fiancé.[34]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Video Hound's Golden Movie Retriever: The Complete Guide to Movies on Videocassette and DVD. Gale. 2004. p. 355. ISBN 0-7876-7470-2. 
  2. ^ "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 8, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Box Office Information". IMDb. Retrieved March 8, 2012. 
  4. ^ Joel Whitburn, Top Pop Albums 1955-2001 (Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research, 2001), 1018.
  5. ^ Andersen, p. 306
  6. ^ imdb releaseinfo
  7. ^ "notes on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  8. ^ Edwards, p. 439.
  9. ^ a b Andersen, p. 295.
  10. ^ Davidson, pp. 207, 211
  11. ^ Davidson, pp. 207-208
  12. ^ Davidson, pp. 206-209
  13. ^ Edwards, p. 337.
  14. ^ Chandler, pp. 231-232.
  15. ^ Andersen, p. 298.
  16. ^ Chandler, pp. 229-237.
  17. ^ Chandler, p. 231.
  18. ^ a b Poitier, p. 286.
  19. ^ Poitier, Measure of a Man, p. 121.
  20. ^ Poitier, Measure of a Man, p. 121-124.
  21. ^ "amc filmcritic.com". Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  22. ^ "Parent Previews". One Voice Communications Ltd. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  23. ^ a b "Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  24. ^ Harris, Mark. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of a New Hollywood. Penguin Press, 2008, p. 374.
  25. ^ Rich, Frank (2008). "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". New York Times: 10. 
  26. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (1986). "HOME VIDEO; New Cassettes: Big Stars and Big Bands". New York Times: 28. 
  27. ^ "NY Times: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  28. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
  29. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  30. ^ Debolt, Abbe A.; Baugess, James S., ed. (2011). Encyclopedia of the Sixties: A Decade of Culture and Counterculture: A Decade of Culture and Counterculture. ABC-CLIO. p. 274. ISBN 1-440-80102-9. 
  31. ^ Daniele Luttazzi (2003) La castrazione e altri metodi infallibili per prevenire l'acne, Feltrinelli, pp. 155-233.
  32. ^ Thomas, Karen (2003). "Bernie will be Spencer in new 'Coming to Dinner'". USA Today. 
  33. ^ Wagner, Erica (2008-01-20). "White Irish Need Not Apply". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  34. ^ What’s Black and White and Shocking All Over? Carolyne Weldon, National Film Board of Canada Blog, June 18, 2012.

External links[edit]