Fifty-four years ago today, the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner premiered. Tracy. Hepburn. Poitier. I should leave this post with those three names as enough reason to watch this film. These actors turn in beautifully poignant performances, the sets are gorgeous, and the storyline is as relevant today as wen it was released 49 years ago. I have included my favorite scene in the film below, the end with her hand gesture is perfection. Do yourself a favor and watch Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner soon.
Directed and Produced by: Stanley Kramer
Written by: William Rose
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Beah Richards, Roy E. Glenn
Release dates: December 12, 1967
Running time: 108 minutes
Budget: $4 million
Box office: $56,666,667 (Domestic) $70,000,000 (Worldwide)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American comedy-drama film produced and directed by Stanley Kramer and written by William Rose. It stars 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 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.
Joanna Drayton’s unannounced early return from a Hawaii holiday causes a stir when she brings to her childhood upper-class home her new fiancé, John: a widowed, black physician. Joanna’s parents – newspaper publisher Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) and his wife, art gallery owner Christina Drayton (Katharine Hepburn) – are liberals who have instilled in her the idea of racial equality. But to her surprise, Joanna’s parents are deeply upset that she is planning to marry a black man. The Draytons’ black maid, Tille (Isabel Sanford), is just as horrified, suspecting that John is trying to “get above himself” by marrying a white woman. What was intended to be a sit-down steak dinner for two turns into a meet-the-in-laws dinner party, and during the pre-dinner period, John, Joanna and her parents have to work through their differences.
Joanna is perplexed by the reactions of her parents – they are unsettled by her engagement with John, since they never thought that her choice would be a black man – and further unsettled by John’s decision that if Joanna’s parents do not accept the engagement that day, that he will end it.
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 and 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 shares Joanna’s enthusiasm about the pending nuptials and tells her father as much. Matt says he cannot give the couple his blessing, however; he fears that Joanna will be hurt by the prejudice that she and John will surely encounter. Meanwhile, one of Christina’s employees at her gallery, Hilary (Virginia Christine), who’d briefly met John and Joanna earlier in the day, stops by the Draytons’ home to express her disapproval over the relationship and, though Christina herself is is still unsure of her own feelings about the matter, she is so offended at Hilary’s racism that she fires her.
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 the men are missing about the situation – passion. When the elder Prentice tells John that he is making a huge mistake, John says that his father thinks of himself as a black man, whereas John thinks of himself as a man.
After thinking about the situation, Matt calls everyone together to make an announcement. He says that it does not matter what everyone else may think about John and Joanna getting married: all that matters is that they love each other. The film ends with the two families and Monsignor Ryan finally sitting down to dinner.