Review: Woman of the Year (1942)

Director: George Stevens | 112 minutes | drama, comedy, romance | Actors: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Fay Bainter, Reginald Owen, Minor Watson, William Bendix, Gladys Blake, Dan Tobin, Roscoe Karns, William Tannen, Ludwig Stössel, Sara Haden, Edith Evanson, George Kezas, Herbert Ashley, Dorothy Ates, Brooks Benedict, John Berkes, Symona Boniface, Elfriede Borodin, Jack Carr, Ann Codee, Jimmy Conlin, Jules Cowles, Fern Emmett, Lisa Golm, Carey Harrison, Winifred Harris, Bern Hoffman, William Holmes, Ben Lessy, Murdock MacQuarrie, Edward McWade , Frank Mills, Gerald Mohr, Sergio Orta, George Ovey, Jack Raymond, Cyril Ring, Henry Roquemore, Cy Schindell, Harry Semels, Walter O. Stahl, Ray Teal, Harry Tenbrook, Michael Visaroff, Harry Wilson, Duke York, Joe Yule

Katharine Hepburn acted as a role model for women for decades. She mainly owed this to her independent lifestyle and idiosyncratic way of working. Hepburn was a woman who would not be fooled; she also kept a tight grip on her work. But the roles they played were also typical of the woman Hepburn was. They were almost always eloquent, willful and bold women. Well-bred, cool, elegant; individualistic, stubborn and stubborn but always civilized. Exactly as she was herself. The four-time Oscar winner had a special chemistry with Spencer Tracy. As feminist as she was, he was conservative. However, the attraction between them was so powerful that they also entered into a relationship in real life (even though Tracy had been married for years and would never divorce). The nine (!) Films they made together did well with the chemistry between the two film legends. The first film they made together was George Stevens’ Woman of the Year (1942).

Distinguished Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn) is one of the country’s most successful and respected political columnists. Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy) is an average sports reporter who works for the same newspaper as Tess. When he hears her make an unflattering comment about baseball on the radio, he can’t resist taking her as the subject of his column. When she responds to this in her column, the puppets are dancing. The two have to meet with the editor-in-chief and there they discover that they really like each other. Sam takes the plunge and invites Tess to a baseball game. She in turn invites him to a party at her house. And although they are very different from each other, they fall in love and decide to get married. The wedding takes place in an emergency, just as everything in Tess’s life flies by at lightning speed. She flies from one place to another, while she increasingly overlooks her brand new husband. When Tess is also named “Woman of the Year”, it all becomes too much for Sam. He decides to leave her. It’s up to Tess to find the love of her life again.

Director George Stevens was right when he dared to put the two opposites Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn against each other in 1942. “Woman of the Year” topped a long list of films and while Adam’s Rib (1949) is often regarded as the best co-production of that series, “Woman of the Year” is also widely acclaimed. The story in itself is not very spectacular; the film leans almost entirely on the chemistry between the protagonists and puts the progressive and idiosyncratic Tess diametrically against the conservative and traditional Sam. Her feminist streak is not too positive and it is Tess who has to make concessions. Stevens and screenwriters Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin (who won an Oscar for their script) wanted to show that women should not put their work before their families. They let that somewhat old-fashioned opinion hint through screwball comedy. One of the strongest scenes is at the end of the film, when Tess tries to prove herself as a housewife and prepares breakfast for her husband. Since she has no experience in the kitchen, things go completely wrong. Fortunately, Sam loves her just the way she is.

With Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, “Woman of the Year” has two well-matched actors in its ranks. She may have won a record number of Oscars, but he too had two gold statues on his mantelpiece. Tracy won the Oscars for Best Male Lead in “Captain Courageous” (1937) and “Boys Town” (1938). They are therefore perfectly able to counteract each other. Hepburn earned her fourth of a total of twelve Academy Award nominations for her role. The rest of the cast is equally colorful. For example, we see the ever likeable and purebred New Yorker William Bendix (“Lifeboat”, 1943) as Sam’s friend, the bar owner Pinky. Fay Bainter, who won an Oscar for her supporting role alongside Bette Davis in “Jezebel” (1938) as Tess “Aunt Ellen. Minor Watson (“They Died with Their Boots on,” 1941) plays William Harding, Tess’s father who lives an equally busy life and also features character actors Roscoe Karns and Reginald Owen. The producer is Joseph L. Mankiewicz, better known as the director of, among other things, “All about Eve” (1950). With him at the helm alongside Stevens, it is no wonder that the production of this film has been superbly taken care of.

Not everyone will think that “Woman of the Year” has stood the test of time. The jokes are fun but mostly dated and with the occasionally sexist script one will not get away so easily in this day and age. Anyone who can put the film in the perspective of its time will, however, undoubtedly be able to enjoy the full 112 minutes. The power of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn is overwhelming. On top of that, there are some hilarious scenes – including one in which he tries to explain the rules of baseball to her and the aforementioned scene in the kitchen – that are more than worthwhile for today’s audience as well.

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