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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

a love story of today

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 108 minutes

UK Certificate: PG


There’s a great song by the old Scottish rock band Deacon Blue called ‘He Looks Like Spencer Tracy Now’. If that one had been written with Tracy’s appearance in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ in mind, then the protagonist of the song would be a frail old man who, despite quite literally being on his last legs, somehow manages to appear stronger than ever before.

Tracy died from a heart attack just 17 days after filming this, and the fact that he’s not in the best of health shows – yet still he produces one of the finest displays of his illustrious career. He plays Matt Drayton, a newspaper mogul whose reputation as a campaigning liberal is put to the test when daughter Joanna (Katharine Houghton) brings home new squeeze John (Sidney Poitier). John’s a uni graduate, a top doctor, and clearly ridiculously intelligent – but he’s also black and, this being 1967, that appears to be a bit of a problem. Just to make things that little bit more dramatic, John and Joanna announce they’re all set to be married, and that mum and dad (Katharine Hepburn – Tracy’s real-life partner and Houghton’s real-life aunt – plays mother Christina) have only until that night to decide whether or not to give them their blessing.

Although peppered with the occasional less-than-successful instance of comic relief, ‘Guess Who’ is a drama first and foremost, and it’s not tough to work out why it picked up two Oscars (Best Actress for Hepburn and Best Screenplay for writer William Rose) and was nominated for a further eight (despite stealing the show, Tracy was pipped to Best Actor by Rod Steiger for ‘In the Heat of the Night’). Dialogue-driven and strangely-riveting, this is as good an example as you’ll find of how the very best performers are capable of taking a decent story and transforming it into a great one. Tracy’s final speech – given added poignancy by the fact that it was the last he would ever make – is as powerful as any you’ll see and, with the possible exception of the occasional Al Pacino diatribe, is the sort of eye-popping monologue that today’s flicks just can’t seem to pull off anymore. To quote another, better-known Deacon Blue ditty, he was an actor just oozing Dignity.

It’s difficult to say with any level of certainty how relevant the ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ premise would be today. This year it’s getting the remake treatment in the form of Guess Who’, which flip-reverses the scenario to give us a white male being introduced to a black family. That one could perhaps go some way towards gauging modern-day reactions to interracial romance – or, at least, that’s what you might think until you learn that the lead roles Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac are in the lead roles, and the whole thing is to be reduced to a bellowing gawp-mouthed farce owing more to ‘Meet the Parents’ than this poignant, thoughtful original. Heaven help anyone attending that one without a set of earplugs at the ready.

It's Got: To take a little, give a little, let your poor heart break a little.

It Needs: To have ditched the awkward, out-of-place attempts at comedy.

DVD Extras Disappointingly, all this one comes with is a bunch of trailers – although admittedly the one for ‘The Man From Laramie’ is pretty darn funny. Version reviewed: Guess Whos Coming To Dinner (Amazon UK) see also Guess Whos Coming to Dinner ( DVD Extras Rating: 2/10


A fitting end to the great career of Spencer Tracy.