Woman of the Year (1942)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Woman of the Year</strong> (1942)

(On DVD, June 2018) There’s a particular pleasure in seeing Katharine Hepburn take on a role described as a superwoman, and there are no credibility issues in seeing her incarnate a 1940s polyglot media superstar, hobnobbing with the ruling elite and wielding a position of considerable influence thanks to her newspaper column. It’s also not so much of a stretch to see Spencer Tracy as a likable everyday man working as a sports columnist, proudly speaking for the masses. Once you’ve got those two characters well-defined, the rest of the film goes by quickly: Of course, they meet, fall in love and then have to deal with their own issues. While Woman of the Year must have been fairly progressive for its time, parts of the movie have not aged well at all. For all of her wonderful introduction, Hepburn’s character is badly treated by much of the screenplay: Unable to actually engage with the idea of a strong powerful woman, the film is often reduced to making fun of a caricature she’s meant to represent. There’s an awful subplot about adopting a child that leads to complications that no decent human being would ever cause. The ending—despite a few chuckles—is quite clearly an attempt to bring her down to a relatable level for much of the audience through something that has since become an unbearable cliché: the ultra-competent woman who can’t cook. There are two things behind the scenes of the film that do soften up its unpleasant edge: For one thing, the film was written almost to order for Hepburn, who contributed to the script—except for the ending, rewritten and reshot against Hepburn’s wishes when test audiences balked. Today’s test audiences would almost certainly prefer the far more egalitarian original ending, which is described on the film’s Wikipedia page. The other thing to keep in mind is that this is the film where Hepburn met and began a decades-long relationship with Tracy (not to mention nine other movies together, all the way to 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner). Despite its missteps, Woman of the Year remains relatively funny, features Hepburn at her best and clearly shows the chemistry between the two leads. Recommended with a few strong warnings attached.

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