Spencer Tracy

Father of the Bride (1950)

Father of the BrideUpon getting the news that their daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) is getting married to her boyfriend Buckley (Don Taylor), Stanley and Ellie Banks (Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett) are immediately thrown into the whirlwind of planning a wedding.  While Ellie is largely enthusiastic about Kay’s impending nuptials, Stanley isn’t as easygoing about the whole thing.

Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if the wedding plans went smoothly.  First Stanley worries that Kay might be marrying a good-for-nothing lowlife, but when those fears are put to rest, every new event brings on a new source of anxiety for Stanley.  First Stanley and Ellie go to meet Buckley’s parents and Stanley accidentally drinks too much.  Then during the engagement party, few guests are interested in the large batch of martinis Stanley has made for the occasion so he spends the entire party in the kitchen playing bartender.

At first, Kay only wants a small, simple wedding.  But since Ellie has always regretted not having a large wedding of her own, she wants to give Kay the wedding she never had.  Stanley puts his foot down at a maximum of 150 guests, but that number quickly grows to 250.  The whole wedding planning process is enough to make Stanley consider paying Kay to just elope already.  And when the RSVP cards are rolling in, Kay wants to call the whole wedding off after getting into a fight with Buckley.  But they quickly work things out and the wedding goes on as planned.  When all is said and done, Stanley decides all the stress was worth is.

Father of the Bride is completely charming and an absolute delight.  This is a movie that just gets it exactly right in every way.  Spencer Tracy’s performance is nothing less than a joy to watch.  And when you take his performance and combine it with Joan Bennett, direction from Vincente Minnelli, and a wonderful screenplay, you have a real winner of a movie.  It’s very funny, warm, and sentimental without being sappy.  Plus, who could ever forget that shot when we first see Elizabeth Taylor, looking positively radiant, in her wedding gown?  Simply put, Father of the Bride is a real must-see movie.

Me and My Gal (1932)

When police officer Danny Dolan (Spencer Tracy) and his partner have to jump into the water to save a man, unfortunately they let gang leader Duke Castenega (George Walsh) get away in the process.  Duke is the ex-boyfriend of Kate Riley (Marion Burns), who works at the bank in town.  Kate is about to get married, but she still carries a torch for Duke and he plans to use her to get the combinations to all of the bank’s safety deposit boxes.  But Kate goes ahead with her wedding and before long, Duke finds himself in prison, but he doesn’t stay there for long.  He makes a daring escape and instantly becomes the most wanted man in town.

It just so happens that Kate is the sister of Helen Riley (Joan Bennett), a waitress that Danny has been flirting with.  Once they finally start dating, it doesn’t take long for them to realize where Duke is hiding — in Kate’s attic.  Even though they don’t realize it before Duke’s gang pulls off a huge bank robbery, Danny is able to nab Duke, make sure that Kate’s name is kept clear, and have a happy ending with Helen.

Me and My Gal is a nice blend of romance, comedy, and gangster film highlighted by the outstanding chemistry between Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett.  It took me a little while to really get into the movie since I didn’t particularly care for the all the focus on the drunk guy in the beginning. But once the movie found its footing, I really did enjoy it.  The teaming of Tracy and Bennett completely made the movie.  Spencer has said that he considered Father of the Bride to be something of an unofficial follow-up to Me and My Gal.  He and Joan played off of each other so well and Bennett absolutely nailed it with all of her witty lines.  Overall, perhaps not one of the best of either of their careers, but still a very nice gem nonetheless.

What’s on TCM: October 2012

October is upon us and that can only mean one thing — classic horror movies!  TCM certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department; every Wednesday night in October will be full of great horror movies to help you get into the Halloween spirit.  In addition to the great horror movies, there’s also a great Star of the Month — Spencer Tracy.  Every Monday night this month will be all about Spencer, but his movies also carry over into every Tuesday as well.

On Tuesday nights, TCM will be doing a series called “The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film,” which will examine how people with physical and mental disabilities have been portrayed in film.

One night that certainly sounds intriguing is the night of October 21st, a night full of animation rarities.  There will be selections of UPA cartoons as well as many cartoons from the silent film era, dating back as early as 1907!  I know I’m certainly looking forward to seeing those!

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Pat and Mike (1952)

Pat Pemberton (Katherine Hepburn) is a first-class athlete, but you’d never know it if she’s playing while her fiance Collier Weld (William Ching) is around.  Whenever he’s nearby, he makes her so nervous that she just can’t play as well as she normally would.  One day, she and Collier go golfing with Mr. and Mrs. Beminger.  Collier is hoping to get Mr. Beminger to make a large donation to Pacific Tech College, so he asks Pat to be Mr. Beminger’s partner and tells her to do her very best so he’ll win.  Of course, the pressure makes her a nervous wreck and she doesn’t have a good game.  When she gets tired of Mrs. Beminger giving her unsolicited golfing advice, she makes several perfect drives all in a row and storms off.  Collier isn’t impressed, but Charles Barry (Jim Backus) sees her real talent and convinces her to enter a tournament.

Pat quickly becomes one of the top players in the tournament and she catches the attention of Mike Conovan (Spencer Tracy) and his assistant Barney Grau (Sammy White).  Mike wants to become her manager and when he first approaches her about it, she turns him down.  As the tournament continues, she does very well and nearly had it won it until Collier showed up and ruined her concentration.  As they get on the train to go home, Pat and Collier get into a fight which makes Pat decide to take Mike up on his offer.  After getting to know Pat better, Mike is surprised to learn that she’s actually pretty new to golfing and that she’s even better at tennis.

Under his guidance, she becomes a famous tennis player, but she still can’t play well if Collier is around.  When Collier causes her to lose a big match, Mike and Collier get into an argument, but Pat is getting tired of being treated like a piece of property. But despite that, Pat continues training with Mike and they begin to fall in love with each other.  When Mike runs into some trouble with some gamblers, Pat helps him out by beating up the gamblers, which makes Mike admit he’s having a hard time dealing with a woman stronger than he is.  Collier hasn’t given up on Pat yet, though, and when he accuses her of having an affair with Mike, she lets him believe it.  With Collier finally out of the picture, Mike realizes he needs Pat just as much as Pat needs him and together, they’re unstoppable.

Of all the movies Katharine Hepburn made with Spencer Tracy, Pat and Mike was her personal favorite of the bunch and it’s easy to see why.  Hepburn was always a very athletic woman and she clearly enjoyed being able to show off her golfing and tennis skills alongside real-life female athletes like Babe Zaharias and Gussie Moran.  As always, Hepburn and Tracy were delightful to watch together and Tracy has just as much fun as Mike as Hepburn had as Pat.  Simply, it’s just a nice light-but-smart romantic comedy.  Even if you’re not a big fan of sports, Pat and Mike is still extremely enjoyable.  If I were to rank my favorite Tracy/Hepburn movies, I’d say Pat and Mike is my second favorite, right behind Adam’s Rib.

What’s on TCM: January 2012

Happy 2012, everybody! January is, as always, chock full of good stuff on TCM.  The first star of the month in 2012 is Angela Lansbury and her movies can be seen every Wednesday night this month.  Every Thursday night will be dedicated to showcasing the work of cinematographer Jack Cardiff.  With no further ado, let’s get to my picks for January.

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Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

In 1945, not too many people are coming to the small western town of Black Rock anymore.  In fact, when John Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) comes to town, it’s the first time the train has stopped in Black Rock in four years.  Although he doesn’t exactly expect a warm welcome, he sure wasn’t expecting hostility from every resident of Black Rock.  When he says he stopped in Black Rock so he could drive out to Adobe Flat and see a man named Komoko, everybody gives him the third degree.  He tries to check into the hotel, but Pete Wirth (John Ericson) doesn’t want to give him a room.  When he does get a room, Hector David (Lee Marvin) threatens him for no reason.  Even some of the locals don’t understand why everyone is so on edge about Macreedy being in town.  Macreedy tries talking to sheriff Tim Horn about Komoko (Dean Jagger), but he’s too drunk to be much help.  Even though Tim is the sheriff, Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) appears to be the one running things in Black Rock and tells Macreedy that since Komoko was Japanese, he had been sent to an internment camp during World War II.

Regardless of what Reno had told him about Komoko, Macreedy is determined to make the trip to Adobe Flat anyway, so he rents Liz Wirth’s (Anne Francis) Jeep and drives out there.  The only things he finds in Adobe Flat are a burned down house, a very deep well, and some wildflowers.  When he sees the wildflowers, he begins to suspect that someone is buried beneath them.  On the way back to Black Rock, Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine) gets behind Macreedy and runs him off the road.  Unharmed, Macreedy gets back to Black Rock and decides to get out of there as soon as he can.  Unfortunately, the train won’t be back until the next day and he can’t get a ride to the next town.  Reno comes to talk to Macreedy again, and he finds out that Reno is horribly racist toward the Japanese.  After this little chat, Macreedy begins to suspect that Komoko is buried under those wildflowers and Reno is the one who put him there.

Macreedy tries to call the state police for help but can’t get through.  Doc (Walter Brennan), one of the few people in town willing to help him, offers him a vehicle to get out of town, but it’s been tampered with.  In a last ditch effort, he tries sending a telegram to the state police to come help.  Since all he can do now is wait, Macreedy stops in at the local bar and Coley and Reno show up to cause trouble for him.  But by now, he’s had just about enough of them and gets into a fight with Coley and tells Reno that he knows he killed Komoko and he couldn’t even do it alone.  The next day, before he was due to leave, Macreedy finds out that his telegram was given to Reno instead of the state police.  Macreedy, Doc, and Tim all remind Reno that it’s a federal offense to do that, but Reno isn’t scared of them.  Once Reno is gone, though, Macreedy tells Doc and Pete that he had come to Black Rock to find Komoko so he could give him a medal awarded posthumously to his son, who had saved Macreedy’s life during the war.  Finally, Pete cracks and admits what happened to Komoko.  Doc and Pete then plot to get Macreedy to safety and to take back control of their town.

Even if you don’t like Westerns, you really shouldn’t be deterred from Bad Day at Black Rock.  It’s much more of a mystery than it is a Western.  And it is one captivating mystery, at that.  There wasn’t a moment in the movie where I wasn’t glued to the screen, eagerly awaiting to find out what on Earth was going on in Black Rock and what happened to Komoko.  Not only is the story wonderful, but you can’t ask for a much better cast than this!  Everything about it was amazing, it’s a real must-see movie!

20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)

Tommy Connors (Spencer Tracy) is a big shot gangster and when he’s sentenced to time in Sing Sing, he expects to be as much of a big shot in prison as he is out of prison.  He arrives to a crowd of photographers and his lawyer friend Joe Finn (Louis Calhern) tries to bribe warden Paul Long (Arthur Byron) to make things easy for Tommy.  But Paul is one warden who can’t be bought.  Tommy thinks he’s going to call all the shots and is determined to not be broken, but he quickly finds out the warden is even tougher.  When Tommy doesn’t want to wear the uniform, he gets sent to work in the ice house without the warm uniform.  And when Tommy says he refuses to work, the warden sticks him in isolation until he’s begging to work.  When Tommy finally does cave, he eventually becomes a model prisoner and even backs out of being part of an escape attempt.

One day, a telegram arrives for Tommy informing him that his girlfriend Fay (Bette Davis) has been seriously hurt.  Luckily for Tommy, he has built enough trust with the warden that the warden is willing to let him out on his honor just for one day so he can go see Fay.  Tommy gives his word that he’ll come back if it’s the last thing he does.  What Tommy doesn’t know is that his old pal Joe Finn is the one responsible for Fay’s injuries.  Tommy and Finn get into a fight and Fay grabs a gun that’s nearby and shoots Finn.  Even though he’s innocent, he knows he’s in big trouble, so he panics and tries to make a break for it.  The warden is lambasted by the media, but eventually Tommy decides to turn himself in and is put on death row.  When Fay recovers, she tries to tell the truth about what happened, but it’s of no help.

20,000 Years in Sing Sing is much more of a Spencer Tracy movie than it is a Bette Davis movie and he is fantastic in it.  I haven’t seen very many of Spencer’s early movies, so this really was a treat for me to see.  This movie also came pretty early in Bette’s career and is clearly from that era when Warner Brothers didn’t know what to do with her.  Although she’s fine in it, she wasn’t used to her full potential here.  She just wasn’t meant to have her hair dyed blonde and be playing gangster’s girlfriends.  But that being said, this is one of Bette’s better early films, I’d say tied with Three on a Match as the best from her pre-Of Human Bondage era.  I really enjoyed it.  Well written, well acted, and has great direction by Michael Curtiz.  All in all, a sharp little movie.