Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
|Guess Who's Coming to Dinner|
Original movie poster
|Directed by||Stanley Kramer|
|Produced by||Stanley Kramer|
|Written by||William Rose|
Roy E. Glenn
|Music by||Frank DeVol|
|Edited by||Robert C. Jones|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||108 minutes|
|Box office||$56,666,667 (Domestic)
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American comedy-drama film starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn, and featuring Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton. The film contains a (then rare) positive representation of the controversial subject of interracial marriage, which historically had been illegal in most states of the United States, and still was illegal in 17 states—mostly Southern states—until 12 June 1967, six months before the film was released, roughly two weeks after Tracy filmed his final scene (and two days after his death), when anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia. The film was produced and directed by Stanley Kramer and written by William Rose. The movie's Oscar-nominated score was composed by Frank DeVol.
The film is notable for being the ninth and final on-screen pairing of Tracy and Hepburn, with filming ending just 17 days before Tracy's death. Hepburn never saw the completed film, saying the memories of Tracy were too painful. The film was released in December 1967, six months after his death.
1960s San Francisco, California. Joanna's unannounced early return from a Hawaii holiday causes a stir when she brings to her childhood upper-class home her new fiancé--a widowed, young, successful, international and idealistic black physician. The household is politically liberal and Joanna's parents--the newspaper publisher Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) and his wife, art gallery owner Christina Drayton (Katharine Hepburn)--have instilled in her the idea that all the races were no better than the others. The time leading up to what was originally a sit-down steak dinner for two would turn into a meet-the-in-laws dinner party before which would be revealled the butting of heads of the marriage-partnered protagonists.
Joanna is perplexed by the reactions of her parents--they are not as settled by her engagement with John as is she since they never thought that her choice would ever be a colored man--and surprised by John's decision undeclared to her that if Joanna's parents do not abide by the marriage he will end the engagement.
The impending problem is that Joanna, always intending in a couple weeks to join John in Geneva as the location of their marriage ceremony, has changed her mind to leave after dinner on his flight to New York City and then onward to Europe. She has also invited John's parents (Roy E. Glenn, Beah Richards) to dinner so that they can all become acquainted with what John had not explained about Joanna.
Matt's golf buddy is the Monsignor Ryan (Cecil Kellaway), a Catholic priest. He is also invited to dinner, shares the same enthusiasm as Joanna about the pending nuptials and tells her father as much.
Cocktails at the Drayton home is musical chairs of different sets of parental characters that share their views about the situation; it shows that the mothers have more faith in their children than the fathers. Universally, it had been expressed by the parents that more than a few hours are necessary for a proper decision but John's mother brings up her idea of what it is that she believes the men are missing about the situation--passion. John expressed his view that his father that the elder Prentice thought of himself as a colored man whereas John thought of himself as a man.
Matt is left to some contemplation before he calls everyone together to make sense of the situation. He feels that it does not matter what everyone else may think about the possibilities of the whirlwind engagement but that what was pointed out by John's mother--true passion--and Joanna's mother pointing out her daughter's happy nature are the only things that Joanna and John can use to make a success of their whirlwind engagement, make it through life when many others do not share or cannot accept them. That the views of John's father can probably change with the work of the other three parents.
- Spencer Tracy as Matt Drayton
- Sidney Poitier as Dr. John Wayde Prentice Jr.
- Katharine Hepburn as Christina Drayton
- Katharine Houghton as Joanna "Joey" Drayton
- Cecil Kellaway as Monsignor Mike Ryan
- Beah Richards as Mary Prentice
- Roy E. Glenn as John Prentice Sr.
- Virginia Christine as Hilary St. George
- Alexandra Hay as Carhop
- Isabel Sanford as Matilda "Tillie" Binks
- Barbara Randolph as Dorothy
- D'Urville Martin as Frankie
- Tom Heaton as Peter
- Grace Gaynor as Judith
- Skip Martin as Delivery Boy
- John Hudkins as Cab Driver
- Jacqueline Fontaine as Singer (uncredited)
- Produced by: Stanley Kramer
- Associate Producer: George Glass
- Directed by: Stanley Kramer
- Assistant Director: Ray Gosnell
- Original Screenplay by: William Rose
- Photography by: Sam Leavitt
- Special Effects by: Geza Gaspar
- Process Photography by: Larry Butler
- Production Designer: Robert Clatworthy
- Set Decorator: Frank Tuttle
- Music by: Frank de Vol
- Sound Recorders: Charles J. Rice, Robert Martin
- Film Editor: Robert C. Jones
- Costumes by: Joe King
- Wardrobe Supervisor: Jean Louis
- Song "Glory of Love" by: Billy Hill, sung by Jacqueline Fontaine
According to Kramer, he and Rose intentionally structured the film to debunk ethnic stereotypes. The young doctor, a typical role for the young Sidney Poitier, was purposely created idealistically perfect, so that the only possible objection to his marrying Joanna would be his race, or the fact she had only known him for ten days: the character has thus graduated from a top school, begun innovative medical initiatives in Africa, refused to have premarital sex with his fiancée despite her willingness, and leaves money in an open container on his future father-in-law's desk in payment for a long distance phone call he has made. Kramer and Rose completed the film script in five weeks.
Kramer stated later that the principal actors believed so strongly in the premise that they agreed to act in the project even before seeing the script. Production had been set for January 1967 and ended on May 24, 1967. Spencer Tracy was dying and insurance companies refused to cover him. Kramer and Hepburn put their salaries in escrow so that if he died, filming could be completed with another actor. According to Kramer, "'You're never examined for insurance until a few weeks before a picture starts. [Even] with all his drinking and ailments, Tracy always qualified for insurance before, so nobody thought it would be a problem in this case. But it was. We couldn't get insurance for Spence. The situation looked desperate. So then we figured out a way of handling it. Kate and I put up our own salaries to compensate for the lack of an insurance company for Spence. And we were allowed to proceed.'"
The filming schedule was altered to accommodate Tracy's failing health. All of Tracy's scenes and shots were filmed between 9:00 a.m. and noon of each day in order to give him adequate time to rest. For example, most of Tracy's dialogue scenes were filmed in a such a way that during close-ups on other characters, a stand-in was substituted for him.
Tracy's failing health was more serious than most people are aware of. According to Poitier: "The illness of Spencer dominated everything. I knew his health was very poor and many of the people who knew what the situation was didn't believe we'd finish the film, that is, that Tracy would be able to finish the film. Those of us who were close knew it was worse than they thought. Kate brought him to and from the set. She worked with him on his lines. She made sure with [Stanley] Kramer that his hours were right for what he could do, and what he couldn't do was different each day. There were days when he couldn't do anything. There were days when he was great, and I got the chance to know what it was like working with Tracy."
A bust of Tracy sculpted by Hepburn herself was used as a prop, on the bookshelf behind the desk where Sidney Poitier makes his phone call. Tracy died two weeks after he completed his work on the film.
Hepburn significantly helped cast her niece, Katharine Houghton, for the role of Joey Drayton. Concerning this, Hepburn stated: "There was a lovely part for Kathy [Houghton], my niece [...] She would play Spencer's and my daughter. I loved that. She's beautiful and she definitely had a family resemblance. It was my idea."
According to Hepburn, the role of Joey Drayton would be one of Houghton's first major roles as a young actress. "The part of my daughter," Kate said, "was a difficult one. A young unknown actress needs more opportunity to win the sympathy of the audience. Otherwise, too much has to depend on her youth, innocence, and beauty. She had one good speech to win the audience, but it was cut. Instead she only talks with her father about the differences between the principles he taught her and the way he's behaving."
Poitier frequently found himself starstruck and as a result, a bit tongue-tied, in the presence of Hepburn and Tracy, whom he considered to be "giants" as far as acting is concerned. However, Poitier reportedly found a way to overcome his nerves. "When I went to play a scene with Tracy and Hepburn, I couldn't remember a word. Finally Stanley Kramer said to me, 'What are we going to do?' I said, 'Stanley, send those two people home. I will play the scene against two empty chairs. I don't want them here because I can't handle that kind of company.' He sent them home. I played the scene in close-up against two empty chairs as the dialogue coach read Mr. Tracy's and Miss Hepburn's lines from off camera."
Given the tense nature of racism in the United States during the time of the film's production, Poitier felt he was "under close observation" by both Tracy and Hepburn during their first dinner meetings prior to production. However, he managed to swiftly win them over. Due to Tracy and Hepburn's close history with Kramer, Poitier cited that Hepburn and Tracy came to bear on him "the kind of respect they had for Kramer, and they had to say to themselves (and I'm sure they did), this kid has to be pretty okay, because Stanley is nuts about working with him".
The film premiered in theaters on January 1, 1968. The film falls into the genre of comedy drama. The film was released on VHS on December 12, 1987, on the twentieth anniversary of the original release. The film was released on DVD on May 22, 2001.
Reviews and reception
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was a box-office hit in 1968 throughout the United States, including in southern states where it was traditionally assumed that few white filmgoers would want to see any film with black leads. The success of this film challenged that assumption in film marketing. Despite this success, which included numerous film award nominations, Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote in November 2008 that the film was frequently labeled as dated among liberals. Another main point of contention was the fact that Poitier's character, the golden future son-in-law, had no flaws and a resume of good deeds. Many people felt that the dynamic between the Draytons and Poitier's character would have inevitably resulted in a happily-ever-after film ending because Poitier's character was so perfect, respectable, likable, and proper. Some people went as far as saying Prentice was "too white" not to be accepted by the Draytons.
The release of the film in the U.S. gave Poitier his third box-office success in six months in 1967, all of which placed the race of Poitier's character at issue.
In a review of the film by The New York Times, Lawrence Van Gelder wrote: "the suspicion arises that were the film made today its makers would come to grips a good deal more bluntly with the problems of intermarriage. Still, this remains a deft comedy and - most of all - a paean to the power of love."
The original version of the film that played in theaters in 1968 contained a moment in which Tillie responds to the question "Guess who's coming to dinner now." with the sarcastic one-liner: "The Reverend Martin Luther King?" After King's assassination on April 4, 1968, this line was removed from the film, so by August 1968, almost all theaters' showings of this film had this line omitted. As early as 1969, the line was restored to many but not all prints, and the line was preserved in the VHS and DVD versions of the film as well.
Awards and honors
- 1967: Academy Award for Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn)
- 1967: Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay
- 1968: BAFTA Film Award for Best Actor (Spencer Tracy)
- 1968: BAFTA Film Award for Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn)
- 1968: David di Donatello for Best Foreign Producer (Stanley Kramer)
- 1968: David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actor (Spencer Tracy)
- 1968: David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actress (Katharine Hepburn)
- 1967: Academy Award for Best Picture
- 1967: Academy Award for Best Director
- 1967: Academy Award for Best Actor (Spencer Tracy)
- 1967: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Cecil Kellaway)
- 1967: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Beah Richards)
- 1967: Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Robert Clatworthy, Frank Tuttle)
- 1967: Academy Award for Film Editing
- 1967: Academy Award for Best Original Score (Frank DeVol)
American Film Institute recognition
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies - #99
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions - #58
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man." - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers - #35
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - Nominated
In 2003, comedian Daniele Luttazzi published the screenplay Tabù, an almost verbatim parody of the film. In the variation, the engaged lovers are aged 40 (him) and 12 (her), and are brother and sister.
The 2005 film Guess Who starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac is a loose remake styled as a comedy rather than a drama, with the racial roles reversed: black parents are caught off-guard when their daughter brings home the young white man she has chosen to marry. Talking about the film, Bernie Mac told USA Today in 2003, "Interracial dating is not that significant anymore." In the article, the writer cites that during the time at which the original movie was filmed, "interracial marriage was considered risky." Casting for Mac's remake of the film began in November 2003. Mac said of the script, "They want to make it a comedy, but I won't disrespect Spencer, Katharine or Sidney (Poitier)."
The plot is very similar to another film, Crossroads, made by the Canadian director Don Haldane a decade earlier in 1957. In this film, a young white woman in Toronto surprises her mother with her black fiancé.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.|
- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at the Internet Movie Database
- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at Rotten Tomatoes
- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at the TCM Movie Database
- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at AllMovie