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Adam’s Rib: The Best Film Rivalry

Adam's Rib

A Husband and Wife Battle It Out In This Screwball Comedy

Adam’s Rib was released in 1949, directed by George Cukor and produced by MGM. The film stars Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey as a couple who are both lawyers named Amanda and Adam respectively. The film opens with a woman named Doris Attinger who suspects her husband is having an affair. Doris decides to follow him into Manhattan with a gun. She discovers he is in fact having an affair and shoots wildly around the room. While the other woman escapes unscathed, Doris’ husband is shot in the shoulder. This sequence of events sets up the rest of the events that unfold across Adam’s Rib. Amanda and Adam both read about the situation in the paper. Amanda is sympathetic to Doris pointing out the double standard that exists between women and men when they have affairs. Adam is an assistant district attorney and Amanda is a solo-practicing defense attorney. Adam comes into work and discovers he has been the prosecutor. When Amanda learns of this, she tracks down Doris and offers to be her defense attorney. From there the rivalry begins. 

A Battle of the Sexes

Adam’s Rib is a film that has largely stood the test of time and continues to pose questions we still grapple with as a society today, such as why are men’s sexual desires and infidelities still more socially accepted? The plot is fairly linear, making it coherent and easy to follow without being bland. Adam’s Rib is solidly paced leaving few boring moments. The film also balances the humor and tension in Amanda and Adam’s relationship. A great example of this is when Amanda announces at their dinner party that she will be representing Doris in the trial, something Adam had not known until this moment causing him to drop a tray in shock. The dry wit in many of Amanda and Adam’s arguments provide consistent amusement.

The film however is not perfect with perhaps the most obvious example being in its title. Amanda’s character is reduced to the biblical notion that Eve and all women came from Adam’s rib. It is no coincidence that Tracy’s character is named Adam, and despite the film questioning gender stereotypes, it still plays on women “coming from men” even if it is meant ironically. 

Unforgettable Chemistry

Hepburn and Tracy were spectacular in the film, both bringing a sensibleness to their characters making the film feel natural. The chemistry between the two is also undeniably. Hepburn and Tracy had a long known affair and starred in many films together, so much so that Adam’s Rib was actually written for them to highlight the dynamics they were known for in their previous films. Over their careers, they starred in nine films together, spanning from 1942 with Woman of The Year to 1967 with Look Who’s Coming To Dinner? only ending because shortly after the 1967 film, Tracy had died. 

Beyond Hepburn and Tracy the rest of the cast brings the film to life. Judy Holliday plays a convincing and sympathetic Doris, and Tom Ewell as her husband Warren who plays off Doris’ character well. His actions both inside and outside of the court make him unlikeable to say the least. He is abusive both physically and mentally and tries to play it off as “normal husband behavior”. The scenes where Amanda questions Warren are extremely impactful and bring the film to a boiling point. 

A Great Blend of Visuals and Music

The aesthetic of Amanda and Adam’s lavish apartment seems like something out of a dream, particularly in New York City, notorious for its small, expensive living quarters. This is common in film, especially in old Hollywood. The sheer grandos of everything adds to the comedy. It isn’t realistic, but in this type of film does it need to be? The cinematography, led by George Folsey, is particularly memorable. Most notably are the courtroom scenes in the famous shot of a defense witness picking up Adam in a visual symbol of women’s strength and power. Another scene heightened by the cinematography choices is when Amanda is driving and Adam and her are arguing about the case. The camera faces both of them head on, very close so that the audience feels as though they are on the hood of the car, almost a part of the scene itself.

Adam’s Rib would not have been complete without its well complemented score. The music was composed by Miklós Rózsa who worked on nearly one hundred film scores during his career, and the song “Farewell, Amanda” was written by Cole Porter especially for the film. Interestingly, Porter disliked the original name Hepburn’s character was given, Madelaine, and refused to write the song. However, he agreed to write the song for her character after it was changed to Amanda. It is a good thing he did as it is a strong addition to the film. 

Lasting Significance and Timeless Laughter

Adam’s Rib is a remarkable film both in the way that it challenges gender and the way we punish different genders, but manages to do it in the form of a screwball comedy. This is even more remarkable especially given its era. The film should continue to be watched not only for its entertaining rivalry between Hepburn and Tracy, but for the philosophical questions we are forced to ask ourselves in between the laughs. The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry and on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list. If they ever were to make a 100 rivalries, Adam’s Rib would belong at the top. 

Adam’s Rib (1949) Official MGM Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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In addition to writing for Dead Talk News, Stella has also been published by The National Organization for Women, The Aurora Philosophy Institute, Phase Zero Magazine, and more. She has loved film since she was little, particularly old and obscure films. Stella currently attends The New School in New York City.