With Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? the arc of Hepburn-Tracy movies comes to a close. I’d put it to you that the concerns of the movies that these two stars chose to do together were primarily political. The story and the dialogue of each picture rarely strays too far from the political. When the subject and concerns of each film diverge too much from the political concerns of the America that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy lived in – as they do in the costume drama/western The Sea of Grass – we feel cheated somehow, as if it were not really a Hepburn-Tracy movie at all. Oddly enough, with this one, the final one, middle-of-the-road views on the subject at hand – interracial marriage – have changed decidedly from the time the movie was made until now, which may make it seem more antique than any of the others we’ve seen. Something else that might contribute to that, though, is the way this film wears its heart on its sleeve.
It was directed by Stanley Kramer from a script by William Rose. The photography was by Sam Leavitt. It was filmed from March to May, 1967 and was released by Columbia Studios the following December. Tracy was so ill during the shoot that it is said completion insurance on the film could not be obtained. Tracy died just after filming on June 10, 1967. The final scene was reportedly made with a double. On June 12, 1967, after Tracy’s death but before the film’s release, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Loving vs. Virginia that determined that state laws preventing marriage between people from different races were unconstitutional.
Hepburn won the best actress Oscar for her performance, and Rose won for best screenplay written directly for the screen. It received Oscar nominations in a slew of categories – Tracy for best actor (posthumously, of course), Cecil Kellaway (who plays the monsignor) for best supporting actor, Beah Richards (who plays Sidney Poitier’s mother) for best supporting actress, Robert Clatworthy and Frank Tuttle for best art direction and set decoration, Robert C. Jones for best editing, Frank DeVol for best music scoring, Kramer for best direction, and the movie itself for best picture. The film was still playing four months after its release when Martin Luther King was assassinated. One of the running jokes of the film has characters asking each other “guess who’s coming to dinner” and in one of these exchanges, Isabell Sanford, who plays the maid, responds with King’s name. It got a big laugh when I first saw the picture, before the assassination. That piece of the film was excised after King died. I hope you enjoy watching the last moments of Katharine Hepburn’s and Spencer Tracy’s truly remarkable film partnership tonight, as we watch Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?