Rixflix A to Z: Adam's Rib (1949)

Director: George Cukor // MGM; 1:41; b/w
Crew Notables: Ruth Gordon & Garson Kanin (AAN, screenplay); Miklós Rózsa (score); George J. Folsey (cinematography); Cedric Gibbons (art co-director); Edwin B. Willis (set decoration)
Cast Notables: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, David Wayne, Jean Hagen, Hope Emerson, Eve March, Clarence Kolb, Polly Moran, Anna Q. Nilsson (uncredited)
Cinema 4 Rating: 8

OK, so maybe this film isn't directly about divorce, but it feels like it to me. Ostensibly, Adam's Rib is meant to be a comedy about the war between the sexes, where what seems at first to be the perfect marriage in the home nearly gets decimated when the couple, equally feisty lawyers inhabited by top thespians Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, start getting a little too competitive in the courtroom instead. Reviewing the film is futile for me, because despite the facts it is supremely well-produced on nearly every level, and that I do get the comedy, however dark, writ large in the material, it reads as nothing but drama to me.

Perhaps taking a cue from when I was twelve and my parents were going through their troubles, leading to a nasty and personally scarring divorce, any film that has couples arguing, let alone one that has the word "divorce" in it, tends to put me at unease. At that age, when the Hayley Mills version of The Parent Trap showed on NBC one evening, owing to the tender nature of the situation, my brothers and I were told by our mother that we weren't supposed to watch the movie when she went out that evening. The babysitter, however, acquiesced to our insistent pleading to let us see the film (in effect, we lied to her sweet, trusting Jesus-freak face), and we laughed and laughed because we had won our short-term, small-minded victory. For the moment.

My brothers really had no understanding of the whole divorce issue at that time, and I will admit that until I watched Trap, I really hadn't thought of it as something into which people really put all that much emotional investment. I had friends who had parents that had divorced, but it never meant anything to me. I believe my mother's fear would be that we, who were already prone to engaging in thoroughly crazy and stupid pranks, would take a cue from the film and use the same to try and get her back together with our father. Which I meant have been inspired to if the film, despite the laughter it initially caused, didn't give way to my actually understanding the opposite was the truth. I knew at that moment that my parents weren't ever to get back together; I understood fully that it was only a silly Disney movie, and it led to a tear-soaked bedtime where our extremely kind sitter held my hand and tried to talk me out of my first sincerely deep depression. It led to an angry teenager, who nearly ruined his entire life due to his selfish brattiness. Eventually, it would lead to my being too scared to go through with my own divorce much later, even though its inevitability was far, far too apparently the best course for both parties.

And it also led to my not being able to fully enjoy incredible movies like Adam's Rib. Tracy and Hepburn do their darnedest, and I have seen the film numerous times over the years, mainly to enjoy the two of them in a pair of their finest roles, and also to enjoy the sharp and quite edgy script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin (themselves tart-tongued marrieds). I quite like the film, but for the same reason that stage dramas with too much bickering and shouting between lovers has me looking for an early bathroom break, and for the same reason that my head starts to buzz when even the lightest argument between Jen and myself occurs, I can't really get the same experience that others get out of Adam's Rib. It won't keep me from watching it over the years, and I will continue to try and laugh at the appropriate moments, but the angrier moments, the pensive state that develops between the main characters, and the misunderstandings that cause the rift are devastating to me. For my own safety, I will always proceed with caution.


Mark Otis said…
Well, now that you mention it, I do remember that viewing. And I held tightly onto that belief that our parents would get back together. I felt my life was fucking shattered for years, and that my true friends were the ones that I left behind in Eagle River. At some later date I watched the move with Debbie (which relationship ended in a nasty split) and remembered just how stupid I thought the whole premise. Of course, I knew by then that Disney's movies were pure fantasy, with the exception of Robin Hood.

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