Woman of the Year (1942): A Problematic Delight

 
 
Sam Craig, a gruff sports reporter, marches to his editor's office. He opens the door to face his boss, only to see a woman's shapely leg outstretched, the woman's hand running up it to fix her errant stocking. She catches him staring, but instead of recoiling at the indignity of this man's actions, she sizes him up and stares right back. Thinking he has walked in on something improper, Sam starts to leave when his editor calls him in. "Haven't you met Ms. Harding?" he asks, Tess Harding being the columnist Sam is currently in a war of words with. "Yes, yes, in a belligerent sort of way," Sam jokes. "He hit me first," Tess retorts as she sticks out her hand for a handshake.

As their editor chastises them for their fighting in the newspaper, Sam and Tess lock eyes. Amused smiles begin to appear on their faces, suggesting that neither journalist realized just how attractive their opponent was when they decided to trade barbs after Tess made a crack about baseball to her readers. It is clear that they like what they see as they take turns looking each other up and down.

Neither wavers until Sam moves to lean against a desk. Tess follows him, her curiosity piqued by a typed page he has had in his hand since he walked in. She doesn't know yet that it is his latest scathing column about her. She tries to read it without him noticing, an uneasy task when the paper is upside down. Sam sees what she is doing and offers her the page. Their editor asks them for a truce, which they easily agree to.

A busy woman, Tess quickly leaves the office and heads to her own. Her brisk pace is no match for Sam, who attempts to catch up to her. Being the astute person she is, Tess glances out of the corner of her eye and sees Sam following. With a slight smile, she turns a corner, stopping on the stairs to light her cigarette. It only takes two seconds for Sam to almost collide into Tess as he also turns the corner. "Isn't the, uh, sports department downstairs?" she innocently asks. Sam fumbles for an excuse until he finally finds the words.
Sam: "Are you always much too busy?"
Tess: "What for?"
Sam: "I-I was wondering about this afternoon."
Tess: "Sorry."
Sam: "And, uh, tomorrow afternoon?"
Tess: "What's on your mind?"
Sam: "I'd like to take you to a baseball game."
Tess: "Okay."

With that, she goes up the rest of the stairs, leaving Sam to happily tear up his scornful column.

This scene couldn't be more perfect if it tried, especially since it was the first time Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy shared the screen. Everything about it defines the brilliant partnership between Hepburn and Tracy. Both actors had monumental strength and talent. Just one word, one gesture, one glance from either of them was enough to devastate, thrill, or charm you. When you put them together, the fireworks that happen are practically blinding. It is sexy. It is electrifying. It is exhilarating.

Woman of the Year is a frustrating film. Tess is magnificent -- until she isn't. This incredible, tough, hardworking, independent woman is slowly turned into someone whose accomplishments make her selfish and arrogant, even though her motivations aren't. Everything Tess does is for the greater good, such as giving asylum to political refugees and adopting a Greek orphan. However, because these actions don't take into account others' feelings (particularly those of her new husband Sam), she becomes insensitive, her inability to completely think things through harming her marriage along the way.

This is all a shame because the beginning of Woman of the Year is wonderful. Really, it doesn't start to go downhill until Sam and Tess marry and the script decides to continually hammer away at Tess. It should be fascinating to see such a complex woman, especially when she is played by Katharine "Always Excellent" Hepburn, but it just feels cruel here. Tracy's splendid portrayal of Sam makes it even harder for you to stick with Tess. He doesn't vilify his wife for her ambition; instead, his disappointment lies in her emotional ignorance.

Although I have my issues with this film, there are a lot of moments that I adore in it. So many scenes from Tess and Sam's courtship are worthy of a swoon (or five), such as when he takes her home and rests her head on his chest during the cab ride. The sensuality intensifies when they go to her dark apartment, where they share kisses and speak in low tones. It's good to see that despite the script limiting Tess in multiple ways, it never scolds her for her sexuality. It is obvious that sex is on her mind just as much as it is on Sam's, and she has no problem openly flirting with him.






The film's greatest asset is without a doubt Tracy and Hepburn. They're divine to watch, and to see them falling in love at the same time as their characters is magical. Spence is the heart of the movie. He is kind, (mostly) patient, and loving. As Sam, he understands Tess's drive, even though it is often at odds with his wants and needs. Spence could also be exceptionally funny -- is he not one of the most underrated comedic performers? Kate, meanwhile, is just plain radiant. She looks so gorgeous in this movie, with an Adrian wardrobe that is absolutely to die for. Tess may be a vexing character, but Kate fleshes her out and humanizes her as only she knew how.

Woman of the Year has stumped me for a few years now. I've never quite been able to put into words how I feel about it. Part of me wants to champion it, but another part of me just can't. It isn't your average romantic comedy. When I watch it, I'm forced to really sit and think about it, to try and wrestle some kind of understanding of it. I don't think I've gotten there yet, but the fact that a rom-com inspires such a need for analysis is enough to keep me checking back in with it from time to time. One of these days, I hope I finally figure it out. Until then, I'll just have to keep drooling over Kate's polka-dot pajamas...





































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This is my second entry to the Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon. Definitely check out the full roster here!

Comments

  1. I have mixed feelings about this film, too. Spencer T and Katharine H have SO MUCH chemistry in this film, and there are some wonderful lines...but I can't wholeheartedly endorse it, either. Perhaps I need to watch it again.

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    1. It makes you think, doesn't it? Everyone behind and in front of the camera does a great job, but I'm not a fan of the script picking on Tess. It stops her from fully becoming the role model for women that she should be, which is a real shame.

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  2. Great review Michaela! Thanks for your honesty about the film :) Personnaly, it's my favourite Kate/Spencer's one. There are so many scenes I love in it: the breakfast one for example or when Spencer tries to socialize during Kate's party where she invited only foreigners who don't speak a word of English haha.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, there are some truly wonderful scenes in it. It's not a perfect film, but it's by no means a bad one, either. I can see why it'd be your favorite.

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  3. Hmm, I never realized how I felt about this film until you put it into words. Still, you can never go wrong with Tracy and Hepburn together onscreen (unless it's The Sea of Grass).

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    Replies
    1. Haha! I haven't seen that one yet, mainly because I've heard it's pretty terrible. But I know that someday I will because of Spence and Kate. Just not today...or tomorrow...

      Thanks for reading!

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  4. This is my favorite film with the duo, and Tess Harding has always been my movie role model. Yes, I see that sometimes I'm overly ambitious and insentive, and I agree with you that the film shouldn't have demonized her so much. Oh, well, I'm at least glad that she didn't give everything up to be a perfect wife, but she and Sam decided to find a point of balance in the end.
    Kisses!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very true! I've seen a lot of people vilify the ending, but I don't think it's quite as anti-feminist as they claim. That's a post I've been thinking about writing for a few years now, actually. I'll get to it one of these days, haha.

      Thanks for reading!

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