One of the greatest worldly battles of time is, of course, the battle of the sexes. And Adam’s Rib, directed by the great George Cukor in 1949, is one of the greatest films ever to deal with this particular topic. Not in the least because it stars an extraordinarily famous Hollywood couple, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, whose love for each other shines through even when they are bickering, and even when they are seriously and painfully fighting. Just look at the screenshot above to see how close these two are. Setting this drama in a courtroom, where their love is pitted against oppositional positions by law, makes it a particularly interesting film and sets up a good many future courtroom love stories.
That this film was made in 1949 is particularly amazing, with the visual portrayal of the relationship between Hepburn and Tracy (as Amanda and Adam Bonner) being so explicit as though Cukor wanted to tempt censors – a feature of the couple’s home movies pushes the point, with a silent film-type insert cutting away to from a closed door to ‘Censored’. It is the dialogue, though, which yet again saves a great film from over-censorship, as it very slyly if at all refers to anything risque or sexual – and the script gets you past Joseph Breen. And luckily, as is often the case with films of this era and particularly Cukor’s work, the dialogue is one of the best things about Adam’s Rib, definitely creating a lively environment for the sharpness of Hepburn and Tracy’s relationship. The film was written by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, the latter whom starred in Harold and Maude (1971), and Gordon’s eccentric but incredibly intelligent personality in the later film is definitely shown developing in the earlier one.
The similarity between these two films is definitely material, and not just convenient. Although it is not a battle of the sexes film per se, Harold and Maude is based around equality of sex, and also of age. The four lovers in both films fight for something they believe in, and in the end they all get what they want. Not to mention the notable presence of liquorice in both films – first, Tracy threatens Hepburn with a fake gun made out of liquorice, then Maude offers some to Harold at the first funeral meeting.
With many more years together as a couple, Hepburn and Tracy are a solid picture of togetherness in Adam’s Rib – to paraphrase Judy Holliday’s character, they are together with no space in between them.