Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

I had just started blogging when I heard about Guess Who's Coming to Dinner for the first time. A friend of my mothers suggested it to me and, although the plot sounded interesting and I was interested in seeing something, anything from Sidney Poitier, it's only now that I finally decided to watch it.

The film follows 23-year-old Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton) as she returns home earlier from her Hawaiian vacation with her new African-American fiance, 37-year-old Dr. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), so that he can meet her parents (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn). Since they are liberals, Joanna expects them to approve of their relationship, but her father does have reservations about it. And so does John's father (Roy E. Glenn Sr.). 

The plot is very simple and quite unrealistic as the parents learn about the relationship and have to decide whether they approve or not in the course of a single day; also, it's pretty predictable. 

This, however, doesn't really take away from the film as the issues addressed with the story are way more important than having an intricated plot. The film tackles the issues of interracial marriage with depth and insight, in a subtle and very human way. It also addresses the issue of hidden prejudice in those who pride themselves on being anti-racist —the Draytons are very open-minded as they approve of racial equality, and yet they have an African-American maid and they both react pretty bad when they meet John— and shows that prejudice operates both ways.

The characters, however, I had a problem with them. They are quite stereotyped —whether it's the fathers being conservative and against the marriage, the mothers having more passion when it comes to love, or the drinking Irish priest— and don't always are very realistic. While I loved that Sidney Poiter's character is a God-like man with no flaw whatsoever —he is the perfect gentleman, with an education, the kind of man fathers would love for their daughters— as there was no other way of making the father's opposition entirely a racial issue, I highly doubt that a Catholic priest from the 1960s would not raise a single objection to interracial marriage, but actually approves of it.

Columbia Pictures
The acting, on the other hand, is spectacular. Spencer Tracy gives a poignant and Oscar-worthy performance. Joanna's father, Matt, is not against the union itself but he is only worried to what his daughter is going to face, what his grandchildren are going to face, and Tracy really delivers that. Kathrine Hepburn also gives a strong performance as the fierce mother. There's obviously a lot of chemistry between them as they were real-life husband and wife, and seeing her tear up during Tracy's beautiful final speech is heartbreaking. Sidney Poitier is a bit of a let down though as he sleepwalks for most of the film. The scene in which he confronts his father and says to him, "you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man", he is very charming and compelling there.

Ultimately, although the characters aren't that good and there are some cringy scenes that are dreadful to sit through —the delivery boy and the ice cream drive-in—, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is quite stimulating and entertaining, and, sadly, it's still relevant today.

4 comments :

  1. This one is certainly going to be on my Blind Spot list for next year. I own it, but haven't watched it all the way through, yet. I'll come back and compare notes when I do.

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  2. You gave an excellent review and you showcase this film that, now, get a lot of flack. I think the issues were handled very well and could even be played today especially in certain States. Just FYI Tracy and Hepburn never married because Tracy didn't believe in divorce...he believed in fooling around but not divorce. The 2 co-habitated for decades and she was the one who found him dead on the kitchen floor. He dies, I think, 10 days after his final scene was shot.

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    1. I thought they were married­čś« anyway, I did read about him dying shortly after finishing filming. Hepburn even used her money to finance the film because the producers didn't want to invest a lot as they were afraid Tracy would die before they finished shooting.

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