Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, husband and wife, wrote their first screenplay for the 1947 film A Double Life, starring Ronald Colman and directed by George Cukor. That screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. Adam’s Rib was the second film they wrote. The story was suggested by the life of two New York lawyers married to each other – William Dwight Whitney and Dorothy Whitney. The Whitneys faced each other in court, each representing a spouse in a divorce case – the Canadian actor Raymond Massey and his wife the English actress Adrianne Allan. After the divorce, Mr. Whitney married Miss Allen and Mrs. Whitney married Mr. Massey.
George Cukor again directed – it was his seventh film with Hepburn and his second with Hepburn and Tracy together. George Folsey, the cinematographer for Hepburn’s and Tracy’s previous film, State of the Union, photographed this movie. The music was by Miklos Rosza, with the central song, “Farewell, Amanda” by Cole Porter. It’s reported that Kanin and Gordon changed the name of Hepburn’s character because Porter would not write a song about a woman named Madeleine. The record of the song played in the film features the voice of Frank Sinatra. The film was made from May through July 1949 and was released the following November. Kanin and Gordon were again nominated for a screenplay Oscar. In 1992 the film was added to the National Film Registry as a film worthy of preservation.
Hepburn and Tracy seem to be completely comfortable within their own skins in this movie. The admirable, quick-witted script helps. There is no getting-to-know-each-other prelude, no waiting for Hepburn to appear on the screen. They are married, and happily married. They cook together. They give each other massages. They plan upcoming events together. Each discusses work with the other. The battle of the sexes story line, and the underlying tension about gender roles, makes the film one that many people remember, and think back to as an important film, even though it’s a comedy. The supporting actors -- Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, David Wayne, and Jean Hagen -- each went on to memorable film acting careers. Cukor reminisced, slightly inaccurately, about the early scene where Hepburn interviews Holliday in jail, a five minute take, “There were three people in the scene: one has her back completely to the camera, one had almost half her back to the camera – which was Katharine Hepburn—and the new actress was Judy Holliday in her first really big scene. It was a very well played scene and the camera did not move. And Katharine Hepburn used all her authority, all her energy to indicate, with her back half to the audience: now that’s where the action is, you watch that! She lent herself to the scene with great discretion, and she helped that scene.” It worked so well that Columbia studio executives were convinced that Holliday could star in the film of Born Yesterday, her next movie.
The critic David Thomson wrote, “It’s fair to admit that in most of these sexual duels the woman caves in first – to get a happy ending and to avoid real subversion. But along the way enormous fun is made of male arrogance, and Tracy has the great good sense to feel the pain and let the prospect of real tragedy sink in. One reason why Cukor’s comedies are so good is that he seldom set out (as) if he didn’t believe in the human or dramatic substance. As with The Philadelphia Story, this could end very badly if Amanda goes another inch too far.” I think the magic between Hepburn and Tracy on screen attracted audiences like a magnet, and does so still. I hope you enjoy watching Adam’s Rib with me tonight.