Saturday, February 14, 2009

Let's get subtle

Overnight tonight, at 3:15 AM ET, TCM is showing Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. I think everybody knows the story: Sidney Poitier plays a man engaged to a young white woman, who brings him home to meet her parents (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy). This being the mid-1960s, and miscegenation still being illegal in several states (the movie was filmed before, but released after, the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia), the idea of your white daughter marrying a black man was considered shocking; the rest of the movie deals with both sets of parents' reactions to the impending marriage. The big problem the movie has is its lack of subtlety. Yeah, we get the point. Racism and discrimination are bad things. (On the other hand, the movie at least has Cecil Kellaway as Spencer Tracy's priest. That's a big plus) Hepburn won her second Best Actress Oscar for this, which is too bad, because the award could easily have gone to three of the other nominees: Anne Bancroft for The Graduate; Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde; or Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark.

It's not as though Hollywood couldn't be more intelligent in its look at discrimination. There are certainly some cringe-inducing lines in No Way Out, but on the whole, it's much more thought-provoking -- and came 17 years earlier -- than Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Britain, at least, had dealt fairly intelligently with homosexuality, in the recently-recommended Victim. On the other hand, it could have been worse. When Hollywood finally decided to make a "prestige" movie about AIDS, they came up with the thoroughly dreadful Philadelphia.

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