Spencer Tracy

The Murder Man (1935)

The Murder Man 1935When J. Spencer Halford (Theodor von Eltz), a business man known for his shady dealings that have swindled lots of people out of their money, is found murdered in his car, it’s exactly the kind of story local newspaper reporter Steve Grey (Spencer Tracy) is best at handling. His reputation for writing about murder cases has earned him the nickname of “The Murder Man.” At least, this would be the perfect story for Steve, if his other coworkers could find him; he also has a reputation for being a hard drinker who often wakes up in places that aren’t his home.

When he’s found and gets to work, he comes up with a theory that Halford was killed by a shot fired from the shooting gallery across the street and that Halford’s business partner Henry Mander (Harvey Stevens) killed him to collect on his insurance policy. Enough evidence is found to support that theory, Mander is put on trial, and Steve is one witness to testify against him. His testimony is enough for him to be found guilty and Mander is sentenced to death.

Although this should be a victory for Steve, he feels awful about it. His boss and his girlfriend Mary (Virginia Bruce), the newspaper’s advice columnist, both convince him to take a vacation, but that doesn’t do much good. Just before Mander is set to be executed, Steve’s fellow reporter Shorty (James Stewart) convinces him to do the final jailhouse interview with Mander. It should be an explosive story, but after meeting with Mander, Steve can’t write the story. He knows Mander is innocent and knows who really killed him and must tell the truth before it’s too late.

The Murder Man is an absolute gem. A very tightly-told crime story with a great twist at the end. I usually find most plot twists to be rather predictable, but I liked this one. It’s also noteworthy for being a major film milestone for two film legends — Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Stewart. This was the first movie Spencer Tracy made while under contract to MGM; he went on to work for the studio for 20 more years. He certainly made the most of his MGM debut, he was great in it. This is also the first featured, credited film role for Jimmy Stewart. Since it’s an extremely early role for him, he’s not given a whole lot to do, but it’s still just fun to see Jimmy Stewart in his first featured role. Virginia Bruce rounds out a great cast as the sympathetic, likable girlfriend. I’m not sure why I’ve never heard of it before today, but I sure am glad I decided to watch it. As much as I find it ridiculous that a real reporter would have this much power over a murder investigation, these types of 1930s newspaper movies sure are entertaining.

The Actress (1953)

The Actress 1953

Clinton Jones (Spencer Tracy), his wife Annie (Teresa Wright), and their teenage daughter Ruth Gordon (Jean Simmons) live together in a modest apartment outside of Boston. They’re a pretty typical family, but Ruth dreams of being anything but typical. More than anything else in the world, Ruth wants to become a great actress. She adores the actress Hazel Dawn and dreams of being able to have a career just like Hazel’s. Ruth’s stage aspirations are well-known to everyone close to her, except for her father. She doesn’t think he would approve of her going into the theater and it’s true, he’d much rather see her go off to school to become a physical education teacher. Annie would rather see Ruth just settle down and marry her boyfriend Fred (Anthony Perkins)

Ruth’s dreams of stage stardom only get bigger when she gets a response to a fan letter from her idol Hazel Dawn inviting her to come meet her backstage after a performance. Hazel knows about Ruth’s desire to be an actress and later sends Ruth a message saying she’s arranged for a Ruth to meet an important director. Eventually, she has to tell her father about her dreams of stardom when he insists on filling out her application to go to school to become a gym teacher. He has her doubts about whether or not she could make it as an actress, but is surprisingly supportive. However, he really wants her to finish school first and absolutely doesn’t want her to go to her interview with the director.

Part of the reason Clinton isn’t so willing to give Ruth his unrelenting support is because financial instability is a big concern for him. Not only for her, but because he’s worried about his own job and doesn’t think he’d be able to support her studying to become an actress. When he gets some news that assures him his job is secure, he promises to send her to acting school. Ruth is thrilled, but when something goes wrong at the last minute and Clinton loses his job, she refuses to let it hold her back. And sure enough, Clinton finds a way to help.

The Actress is based on actress Ruth Gordon’s own experiences as a teenager. Although it’s a story about Ruth, Spencer Tracy is the one who gets the richest role in the movie. Spencer Tracy was an expert at playing characters who could seem gruff and stern, but still had a soft side to them, and this is very much on display here. This was very much intended to be a tribute to Ruth Gordon’s father and Spencer certainly did him justice.

On the whole, it’s a very pleasant movie with just the right amount of sentiment. It may not be anything truly spectacular, but it’s still likable enough that I’d give it another watch if there wasn’t much else on television. The Actress is also noteworthy for being the film debut of Anthony Perkins.

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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