Play It Again – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

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By Jess Lomas
February 19, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

The social politics of the 1960s are put on trial in Stanley Kramer‘s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which sees the legendary Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn (in their last on-screen pairing) engage in the less than ideal meal-time topic of interracial relationships.

Matt (Spencer) and Christina (Hepburn) Drayton are excited to welcome their daughter Joey (Katharine Houghton) home to San Francisco from her vacation, but they weren’t expecting her to have a new fiancé in tow. Despite John Prentice’s (Sidney Poitier) honourable credentials – he’s a well-mannered doctor who comes from a good family – he has one thing the Draytons weren’t expecting: black skin. Their unwelcome reaction to John’s colour is particularly interesting given the family’s liberal persuasion and championing for race equality. The surprises keep coming when John’s parents (Roy E. Glenn and Beah Richards) fly into town to join the dinner party, and discover Joey is white (in a meant-to-be-shocking-but-isn’t-really twist of reverse discrimination).

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This was the first major film to positively depict interracial marriage – something that seems trivial by today’s standards – but the dated politics do unfortunately remove some of its bite. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is hard to watch at times, even when attempting to remember its historical and cultural significance, and, despite championing against racism , the picture occasionally lets slip its own racist dialogue and characterisations. In fact, while Matt and Christina do come around to the idea of their daughter’s marriage and the wider social repercussions of it, they’re still content to keep a black housemaid who oozes stereotypical jive lingo.

Despite these grievances, it’s still a charming flick that succeeds solely on the performances of its incredibly strong cast, with director Kramer reuniting with his The Defiant Ones star, Sidney Poitier. Events take place predominantly within the Drayton home, making this a true treat for lovers of conversation; those who seek a lot of action will quickly tire. Guess resonated with audiences at the time and earned ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. It took home Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Screenplay, with Hepburn deservedly singled out for her graceful performance.

3.5/5

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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