Friday, August 02, 2013

Classics: Adam's Rib

I have no idea why, but for some reason I had it in my head that Adam's Rib was actually a screwball comedy. Perhaps it's just because it was made around the same time and featured a married couple as the lead characters.

I mention this only because the fact that it actually was a rather earnest drama with quite a bit of comedy mixed in threw me because it wasn't what I was expecting. In fact nothing about the film was what I expected, and I don't know whether that changed my opinion of it or not. I've been hearing about it for decades, but I had only recently gotten around to watching it, and my delay wasn't for any particular reason so my reasons for watching it weren't that strong either.

Part of the issue is that it's a film that's often touted as being very feminist. Some of the scenes in the film are in fact very feminist in nature, and taken completely out of the context of the movie are quite impressive for their time since they are arguments we're still having. When Heburn's character talks to her secretary about the different opinions when a man cheats versus a woman cheating, it's a double standard woman are still struggling against now, over 50 years later.

The basic plot is that a working class woman has shot her husband and injured him. A pair of married lawyers have taken up the opposing sides of the case, Spencer Tracy plays the prosecuting attorney Adam Bonner, and Katharine Hepburn the defense, Amanda Bonner. Throughout the film the case causes them tension both inside the courtroom and at home, as they struggle to reconcile what their differences of opinion mean about their own ability to relate to each other.

On some levels it's a great story and the characters are interesting, their relationships compelling. It's almost redundant to say that Hepburn and Tracy have amazing chemistry. On other levels, it doesn't hold up to the passage of time because it becomes just a little bit more obvious how it's not actually as feminist as you might think. It's more what comfortable rich woman played at for feminism in the 1950's, where they were allowed to be loud and a bit bossy as long as at home they submitted to their husbands and had their quaint dinner parties and were still appropriately feminine.

Getting into why that bothered me is opening a huge can of feminist history worms, and talking about the differences between first wave and intersectional feminism and on and on. But suffice it to say, as the film went on it stopped working for me. Especially considering the character of Kip, a client of Amanda's that is smarmy and in love with her and she thinks the attention is wonderful. Everything about the way Kip interacts with Adam and Amanda is a bit gross and old fashioned, and it starts to really annoy me before the film is over. So much so that by the time we get the traditional romantic comedy reconciliation, I actually didn't care if they got back together because they'd both behaved so poorly in relation to the Kip situation that I didn't know if they deserved a happy ending.

SPOILER ALERT FOR THE LAST SCENE IN THE FILM

I also thought that having Adam end the film by claiming that he was fake-crying at the accountant's office to win Amanda back was just a very gross way to end the story, and by having her accept it as a loving gesture means that it negates much of what the film was supposed to be about. The last few scenes actually rub it in that Amanda is actually wrong, that Doris Attinger didn't have the right to shoot her husband because even men shouldn't have the right to kill a cheating spouse. It basically takes the time at the end to put Amanda back in her place, as a proper feminist should always be just non-threatening enough not to upset the status quo and her actions should only be to make her feel better, or within the confines of what society deems acceptable.

I realize I'm probably reading a lot into the movie, and it isn't necessarily fair to a film released in 1949 to be analyzing it in this light. It was a product of it's time, and it was a rather progressive one at that I'm sure. I'm just really tired of the fact that this IS what life was like then and it's what life is STILL like now, and so maybe it was the wrong movie at the wrong time for me.

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