Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Woman of the Year (1942)

Director: George Stevens


Tracy and Hepburn, together they would one of the most notable screen Hollywood couples in the industry’s history. Here in Woman of the Year we see these two accomplished stars united for the first time in their careers, a relationship that would span several decades. In this romantic comedy we watch as the two strong minded individuals struggle with idea of giving up a piece of one’s self for the sake of love for one another. It is a comedy that plays on the idea of a career woman who must learn that a relationship is a series of give and take versus the lifestyle she had built for herself.

Woman of the Year is a romantic comedy about a relationship between an international correspondent and a sports writer and the marital problems that arise from her unwavering commitment to her work. Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn) and Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy) are two journalists that come from very different backgrounds, her a life of privilege with social awareness and him more of an average, blue collar world. Despite the two falling in love and marrying Sam finds fitting into Tess’s world to be one of difficulty as she is preoccupied with her philanthropy other endeavors she feels are most important. When Tess is to be honor with a “Woman of the Year” award for her all her work, it becomes apparent to Sam that she is too wrapped up in her work to juggle with marriage and even surprising adopted child she had for a very short time, making Sam feel secondary in her life.

Through these events Sam decides to leave Tess as he feels as if an afterthought in her mind, leaving her troubled with the idea that she failed at something. While attending her father’s wedding and listening to the words of love Tess realizes that she cannot let this opportunity for romance to pass her by. After a failed attempt to win back Sam by forcing herself to act like as she feels Sam wants her to act, as a housewife to him, Sam proclaims he just wants her to be her, but include him in her life, and idea humorously stamped home in agreement as Sam kicks her ever-present assistant out of the room to close the film.

The film is humorous and touching picture that wanders into the realm of a working woman, an idea that was at the time still not well spread throughout the country. Katharine Hepburn was made for a role such as this, as a stubborn, strong will woman that is so determined to make herself into this significant. She is an independent individual that she loses focus on fact she now has a husband. Hepburn was herself a determined woman that literally willed much of her own success into existence. She embodies the spirit of the Tess character that brings about a new style of woman in the working world with stature and determination.

Tess focuses on herself more that Sam.
When it comes to the production of Woman of the Year all aspects of the picture revolves around Katharine Hepburn, who found the script, sold it to MGM, and was even given choice of co-star and director. Long wanting to work with whom she thought was the best actor in the business Hepburn cast Academy Award winner Spencer Tracy and thus began a long professional relationship, as well as off-screen secret romance.

To entice Tracy to joining the project as well as help smooth out production Hepburn reached out to director George Stevens. Hepburn originally wanted good friend and accomplished filmmaker George Cukor to direct the picture, but she felt a more “manly” man would help ease Tracy through their first project together over the more effeminate  Cukor who was better known for handling women in his films. Stevens had worked with Hepburn in Alice Adams, but his work on films such as Gunga Din demonstrated his ability to work with men.

Through production it was apparent that Tracy and Hepburn were becoming romantically involved with each other which the studio overlooked despite Tracy was married. Hepburn helped Tracy through his alcoholism while Tracy was able to keep Hepburn grounded and taught her how to deal with the press, a struggle through much of her earlier career.

The film is a progressive picture that shows a more modern woman who finds herself working in a man’s world. She is accomplished and respected, fighting for women’s justice while attempting to make an impact for the greater good of the world. She is a woman that does not struggling working with or above other men, which is a progressive character in the world of motion pictures which usually kept women in a status below men or at least in a need of help from men. That is clearly not the case with Hepburn or her character of Tess.

Sam takes Tess to her first ballgame.
Spencer Tracy’s performance is charming and lovable as an average guy, and a sports’ writer at that to better yet make him the average man with average interests. He wins over audiences just being himself which would be necessary in order to gain the sympathy when Tess overlooks his importance in her life. He is the character by which we follow the story arch as we watch Tess break his heart and ours, proclaiming him to practically unimportant in a heartbreaking scene where she lets out a slip of the tongue that hits like a dagger in his heart. Tracy’s performance is subtle, but true and amiable.

The film had its fair share of difficulties, the primary one being the original ending. After testing the picture producers determined the original ending was not satisfying enough for the audience. They felt Tess needed to “get her comeuppance” for basically not being a good wife. So while the screenwriters were on vacation the producers and George Stevens rewrote the ending for reshoots, much to the protest of Katharine Hepburn who found the story in the first place and felt it did not need to be changed.

The final scenes where Hepburn is attempting to cook a breakfast for Sam comes off a bit slapstick comparative to the rest of the film and can be understandable as to why it would have upset the original screenwriters as well as Hepburn. In any case the scenes make Tess appear more humbled by experience of Sam leaving her for not being a wife in their marriage and proved to satisfy audiences. In the end the film and its screenwriters would walk away from the Academy Awards with the honors for Best Original Screenplay.

The outcome of the film was one of good profits for MGM, another Oscar nomination for Hepburn, as well as decades of adulation for the film by critics and film historians as one of the top American comedies of all time. In 1981 the film would be adapted to a Tony Award winning Broadway musical to further the impact of the film in entertainment history.

This picture would be the first of what turned out to be nine pictures Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn worked on together. Their professional and romantic relationship would benefit both of them and lasted until Tracy’s death in 1967. It is here in this romantic comedy where they finally found the opportunity to work together and it was thanks to it that Hollywood found one of its most successful romantic pairings.

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