“Now, I have some instructions for you….” DON’T MISS THIS FILM!
I fear I am not a good enough writer to describe the myriad of reasons to come see Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, on February 11 at 6:30 p.m. I also don’t have enough room on the page.
Wikipedia tells us it is a 1967 American comedy-drama, starring film-legends Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy and is one of the few of that time to depict interracial marriage in a positive light. At the time of its release, laws prohibiting interracial marriage had only recently been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Frank Rich, in a 2008 New York Times article, noted that “[t]hough the film was a box-office smash and received 10 Oscar nominations, even four decades ago it was widely ridiculed as dated by liberal critics. The hero, played by the first black Hollywood superstar, Sidney Poitier, was seen as too perfect and too ‘white’.” But, according to director Stanley Kramer, the film was intentionally structured to debunk ethnic stereotypes and purposely created idealistically perfect, so that the only possible objection to him would be his race, or the brevity of the 10-day engagement. This factor lends itself to the concerns of both sets of parents: the lack of thought and consideration to what a mix-race marriage would mean.
While a victim of its times, with all the clichés and what some will find politically-incorrect positions, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner transcends the shallow, ridicule-filled approach of today’s films, with a subtle, empathetic and non-judgmental recognition of the very real, and very personal, struggles of all its characters. Though it may have all of the flaws its critics claim, it is still a great film that recognizes that there is always more than a single layer or motivation behind our behavior and portrays this internal deliberation with sensitivity and understanding. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of scenes where blatant racism is called out and ridiculed, not the least of which is Hepburn’s surgeon-like extraction of her snoopy, ill-mannered employee.
For me, the beauty of this film is not the obvious. It is not the crackling dialog addressing the issue of race in a way few movies of its time dared, but rather, it is the study of two mature marriages and the generational conflict of a father and son. Both concepts are portrayed throughout the film, but most beautifully by Beah Richards as she reproaches Spencer Tracy’s character in the most dignified and heartfelt scene in the movie, juxtaposed artfully with Poitier’s angry, yet loving, discussion with his father’s character about their difference in self-image and what it means to him as a man.
In 2017, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It was the winner of the Best Screenplay Oscar and gave Hepburn her second Oscar for Best Actress. It is the last time Hepburn/Tracy were on screen together and indeed, the last film of Tracy’s career – he died just days after its release and it was questionable he would even complete filming. Hepburn and Tracy may be the main dishes of this fantastic meal, but delicious performances by Poitier, Beah Richards, Isabel Sanford (best known for her role as Weezy in the T.V. sitcom The Jeffersons) and Cecil Kellaway make for a banquet to be savored. Just as a fine chef layers flavor upon flavor to achieve a culinary masterpiece, Kramer and the all-star cast serve up a multi-layered film that makes us not only laugh and cry, but critically consider our biases and relationships.
Will you be coming?!
In a 2013 interview, Mandy Patinkin confessed that his favorite line in The Princess Bride is not the immortal words of his character, Inigo Montoya: “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you keeled my father, prepare to die.” Rather, Patinkin’s favorite quote comes from the end of the story, when the heroes are escaping the castle, and Inigo prepares to jump from the window to ride off on one of four magnificent white horses. He pauses and says to Wesley: “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.”
To Patinkin, this is what it is all about. “The purpose of revenge is completely worthless and pointless and the purpose of existence is to embrace our fellow human being … and turn our darkness into light.”
In today’s world of cynicism, political strife, and discord, Patinkin’s words were never truer. I own multiple copies of The Princess Bride and have seen it, beginning to end, at least 30 times, and yet, if I happen upon it while channel surfing, I immediately stop and luxuriate in the perfection of this movie. It is a classic. A movie that knows what it is. Perfectly cast, beautifully filmed, heartwarming, irreverent, hilarious, and imminently quotable, The Princess Bride is like a warm fuzzy blanket on a cold day.
The beauty of this film is that it is familiar and fresh all at the same time. The story lines are ones we know: a grandfather spending time with his grandson; a son avenging his father; miracles; and, of course, true love. But the movie is intertwined with such joy, humor and unexpected quips, that it surprises and never gets old. No matter our age, gender, background, or mood, The Princess Bride is always the perfect fit.
I first saw The Princess Bride the year it was released (1987). Just a year out of college, it charmed me and made me laugh. Years later, I introduced it to my soon-to-be-husband who immediately fell under its spell. When our children came along, it became a family night favorite and, as they have grown, the jokes have become funnier, the subtle humor more appreciated and the lines more quotable. On more than one occasion I quoted Miracle Max as they headed out of the house “Have fun stormin’ the castle!”
When released, The Princess Bride was not a blockbuster hit. It wasn’t until release on VCR that it truly hit its stride and became popular. It is now universal. Test this yourself. Ask people you know what their favorite line is from The Princess Bride. You will be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t have a quote or who hasn’t seen the film. In a 2012 interview in New York Magazine, Patinkin said that his most famous line from gets quoted back to him by at least two or three strangers every day of his life. Patinkin told the interviewer that he loves hearing the line and he also loves the general fact that he got to be in “The Wizard Of Oz of our generation.” What an apt description. Like The Wizard of Oz, The Princess Bride is a celebration of storytelling! So let’s celebrate its 30th anniversary at the Waukesha Civic Theatre’s PIX Flix on Monday, November 13, 2017 – 6:30 pm.
What’s MY favorite quote? Meet me at the Theatre on the 13th, and I’ll let you know!