Adam (Spencer Tracy) and Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn) are a both attorneys and very happily married. When Adam gets a case as district attorney where a woman, Doris (Judy Holliday), is charged with attempting to kill her husband Warren (Tom Ewell) out of frustration and jealousy, Amanda is convinced that if the reverse was the case and the husband shot at a cheating wife, he would be acquitted but that it won’t be the case for Doris. So she decides to represent Doris as the defense lawyer in the case to prove her point to both Adam and the entire world.
Adam’s Rib was a wonderfully entertaining romp of a film with great performances by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and a script that pleasantly oscillates between being serious and being silly.
As a feminist, this film was bound to be interesting to me with its explicit handling of gender and the battle of the sexes. Equally obvious is that a film that is almost 70 years old won’t be on the height of feminist theory. Arguably, “women should be able to shoot their husbands when they cheat and get away with it, just like men have been doing for a long time” is not a perfect message to have. But what is still a very current debate is the question of double standards when it comes to men and women, as well as the question of how much lovers are entitled to each other.
Adam’s Rib broaches these subjects with a lot of heart and a great sense of humor even when its conclusions are a little outdated. The dialogues certainly fly, the pacing is excellent and the runtime feels much shorter than it is. Most importantly it made me laugh.
A lot of why the movie works so beautifully can be attributed to Tracy and Hepburn (who the script was written specifically for and who were in a relationship with each other). Not only are they each charismatic screen presences and excellent actors, their chemistry with each other is really what pushes the film beyond the usual. It helps, of course, that the script allows them to be more than just adversaries: while they might fight in the courtroom that doesn’t mean they have to fight at home, although certain resentments will spill over.
All in all, Adam’s Rib is simply an entertaining film that will put a smile on your face in an easy manner without sacrificing all depth or brains. It’s not perfect, but it is damn excellent.