USA 1967, 108 minutes, color, Columbia Pictures. Director: Stanley Kramer. Written by William Rose. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn, Katherine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway, Beah Richards, Roy E. Glenn, Isabel Sanford, Virginia Christine, Alexandra Hay, Barbara Randolph, D’Urville Martin, Tom Heaton, Grace Gaynor and Skip Martin.
Plot summary: When Joey returns from Hawaii, she surprises her parents with a fiancé who tests their liberal convictions.
Review: When Joanna Drayton (Katherine Houghton) returns to San Francisco to see her parents, she also brings a big surprise: vacationing in Hawai’i, she has fallen in love with a young doctor, John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), whom she wants to marry within a few short months. As if her whirlwind romance wasn’t enough to take in for her liberal parents, a newspaper publisher (Spencer Tracy) and an art gallery owner (Katherine Hepburn), Joanna’s fiancé is African-American. Confronted with the boundaries of their own values, Matt and Christina Dayton have trouble adapting to their daughter’s open mind and fear for the couple’s future in a biased society. When John’s parents, equally struggling with the situation, join them all for dinner, the moment has come for all sides to remind themselves of what they really want for their loved ones.
Set and produced in 1967, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner addressed a difficult topic in riotous times, winning praise from critics and moviegoers alike. Rewarded with two Academy Awards and eight additional nominations, the film ripped into the heart of public turmoil by aiming at liberal hypocrisy and black-on-black racism. Fiercely honest about the obstacles of Joanna’s and John’s young love, the film was blessed with a cast that turned an already excellent script into a memorable motion picture. Starring Spencer Tracy in his last film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner turned out be a tribute to a beloved actor who died a few short weeks after production was completed. Posthumously nominated for his strong performance, Tracy led a cast of stellar actors, including his longtime partner Katherine Hepburn. Strong as always in her performances, Hepburn created a genuine chemistry with Tracy despite his grave illness, but also left room for the ensemble cast to shine. Sidney Poitier, soft-spoken and impressive at the same time, built a believable sparkle with Katherine Houghton (Hepburn’s real-life niece), who was the only one who – despite her talent – did not get an opportunity to give her character real depth.
Although some people may look at the topic and deem it outdated, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a classic that still resonates today. Available on DVD, the film is touching on more levels than the plot may suggest and thus has the potential to remain popular for generations. Poitier’s rage, expressed in an emotional speech addressed at his father, reflects the frustration of many adult children, as well as the ingratitude of youth. It also gives us a glimpse into that sense of entitlement born in the late 1960s, a social phenomenon still seething in Western culture today.
Melanie Simone is a writer with a degree in American Studies and English. On Talking Classics, she savors her love for vintage Hollywood.