Woman of the Year (1942)

Seventy-eight years ago today, the film Woman of the Year premiered. This film is the start of a highly successful nine film pairing of Hepburn and Tracy. They spent the next 25 years together personally and professionally. You have to see this film

Title: Woman of the Year
Directed by: George Stevens
Produced by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay by: Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by: Frank Sullivan
Production company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Distributed by: Loew’s Inc.
Release date: February 19, 1942
Running time: 114 minutes
Budget: $1,006,000
Box office: $2,708,000
Academy Award Best Original Screenplay

Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn) and Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy) are journalists for the fictional New York Chronicle. Tess, the daughter of a former ambassador, is a highly educated, well-travelled political affairs columnist who speaks several languages fluently. Sam is a knowledgeable and well-informed sports writer. Their difficulties are presented as stemming from differences of class, experience and temperament, as well as from gender.

After Tess suggests on the radio that baseball be abolished for the duration of the war, Sam leaps to the sport’s defense. Their editor summons them to his office: He will not stand for an intramural feud at his paper. Their attraction is mutual and instantaneous. Sam invites Tess to a baseball game. She is unfamiliar with the rules of the sport—and Sam has some difficulty explaining them. Tess invites Sam to her apartment later that night. What he thought would be a date is actually a cocktail party where all the guests are discussing the world situation in foreign languages. He leaves. She sends him champagne to apologize and asks him to take her to the airport so he can kiss her goodbye. On the drive back to town, Sam hits it off with Ellen Whitcomb (Fay Bainter) the world-famous feminist aunt who raised Tess. She tells him to “marry the girl.”

Sam always wanted to do it up right, but their wedding at a justice of the peace in South Carolina—arranged by Gerald, Tess’ ultra-competent secretary (Dan Tobin) to fit her schedule and that of her illustrious Senator father (Minor Watson)—is a whirlwind. Their wedding night is disrupted by the arrival of a Yugoslavian statesmen, escaped from the Nazis, and the crowd that follows.

Conflicts large and small arise over Tess’s priorities and Sam’s place in her life, beginning with where they should live (her apartment). She solves problems by flirting instead of listening. The crisis comes when Tess adopts a Greek refugee child, Chris (George Kezas), without consulting Sam. When she mentions a child, he believes she is pregnant, and he is very angry when he learns the truth, for Chris’s sake as well as their own. Their argument is interrupted by the news that Tess has been named “America’s Outstanding Woman of the Year”.

Tess plans to leave Chris by himself while they go to the award gala; Sam refuses to leave the boy alone. He says she can tell everyone he had more important plans. Tess asks scornfully if anyone would believe that. While Tess is at her gala, Sam returns the overjoyed child to the orphanage and walks out. Tess returns home with half-a-dozen photographers and discovers that Sam and Chris and their belongings are all gone. She attempts to reclaim Chris, but he refuses, preferring to stay with his friends.

The next day, Tess receives a telegram from her father, telling them to come to his home in Connecticut. Sam declines. Tess protests that their marriage was perfect. He replies, “It was neither—perfect or a marriage.” Tess arrives to learn that her aunt and her father are to be married that night, after 15 years of unspoken love. The ceremony has all the grace that was lacking when the Craigs married. Listening to the minister’s words, Tess is moved to tears. She drives through the night and arrives at Sam’s new Riverside apartment with the milkman. She starts to prepare breakfast. Eventually awakened by her noisy incompetence in the kitchen, Sam watches her surreptitiously. She tells him that this time she listened to the words, and proclaims her intention of being nothing more than his wife. She continues her efforts, bursting into tears amid exploding waffles, flying toast and an erupting percolator.

Sam tells her that he is disappointed in her for the first time, faulting her for going to extremes. He does not want “Tess Harding” or “just Mrs. Sam Craig,” How about “Tess Harding Craig”? Tess happily agrees. Gerald appears: Tess has a ship to launch. Sam takes Gerald outside, we hear the champagne bottle smashing and something tumbles down the backstairs. Sam returns smiling, saying, “I’ve just launched Gerald.” They embrace.

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