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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Stanley Kramer
Cast:
Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway, Beah Richards, Roy Glenn
Writing Credits:
William Rose

Tagline:
a love story of today.

Synopsis:
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn (who won the Academy Award as Best Actress for her performance) are unforgettable as perplexed parents in this landmark 1967 movie about mixed marriage. Joanna (Katharine Houghton), the beautiful daughter of a crusading publisher, Matthew Drayton (Tracy), and his patrician wife, Christina (Hepburn), returns home with her new fiance, John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), a distinguished black doctor. Christina accepts her daughter's decision to marry John, but Matthew is shocked by the interracial union, and the doctor's parents are equally dismayed. Both families must sit down face to face and examine each other's level of intolerance. In Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, director Stanley Kramer has created a masterful study of society's prejudices.

Box Office:
Budget
$4 million.
Domestic Gross
$56.700 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 3.0
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
Spanish

Runtime: 107 min.
Price: $24.96
Release Date: 2/12/2008

Supplements:
• “A Message from Quincy Jones”
• Introduction from Tom Brokaw
• Introduction from Steven Spielberg
• Introduction from Karen Kramer
• “A Love Story of Today” Featurette
• “A Special Kind of Love” Featurette
• “Stanley Kramer: A Man’s Search for Truth” Featurette
• 2007 Producer’s Guild “Stanley Kramer” Award Presentation to Al Gore
• Stanley Kramer Accepts the Irving Thalberg Award
• Photo Gallery
• Previews


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Guess Who's Coming To Dinner: 40th Anniversary Edition (1967)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 12, 2008)

Rare is the social commentary that doesn’t appear dated when viewed years later. What appears progressive and timely today seems goofy and tired tomorrow, and even the best efforts in that vein suffer from such concerns.

The Sixties were rife with this sort of concept. After all, that era is regarded as probably the most socially conscious of the 20th century, and all kinds of media recorded these attitudes for posterity. As part of that cause, 1967’s comic drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner has held up in some regards, but the ravages of time have affected it in many ways.

The film tells the story of rich white girl Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton) and prominent black doctor John Prentice (Sidney Poitier). They met on vacation in Hawaii and quickly fell in love. In fact, the movie begins as they come to the San Francisco home of Joey’s successful and influential parents Matt (Spencer Tracy) and Christina (Katharine Hepburn). Although the two consider themselves to be socially progressive, the prospect of this interracial marriage startles both of them - especially Matt. The situation becomes even more entangled when John tells Matt that he won’t marry Joey without Matt’s blessing, a factor that becomes exacerbated by the couple’s insistence that they get hitched immediately. That means Matt has to decide within a few hours, and the scenario gets even more muddled when John’s parents (Roy Glenn and Beah Richards) fly up from LA to meet their future daughter-in-law.

Much of Guess works quite well. I think the story line moves along at an appropriate rate and that the tale is fairly engaging and compelling. Certainly one can’t fault most of the cast. Tracy, Poitier and Hepburn all offer extremely solid performances that give their characters life beyond the somewhat shallow script. These elements make Guess consistently watchable and entertaining.

However, I ultimately find the film to be unsatisfying for a variety of reasons. First of all, as Joey, Houghton is seriously out-classed by her costars. This was Houghton’s first film, and it seems likely she got the role due to nepotism since Hepburn was her aunt. I can’t imagine any other reason why she appeared in the film as her performance is largely terrible. Houghton seems wholly artificial and forced throughout the movie. Not for one second do I buy Joey as a real person, as Houghton makes her into a total idiot.

Some of the fault for that characterization must lie in the script, but I think most of the problem stems from Houghton’s performance. This issue leads into my main concern with Guess: the general absurdity of the plot devices.

Let’s look at the scenario. A naïve and innocent 23-year-old girl meets a 37-year-old widower on vacation. Within a week and a half, the two have decided they love each other and wish to marry. Not only that, but they insist on getting hitched absolutely immediately; the engagement is scheduled to last only a few days. When the loved ones of these people meet the significant others for the first time, these decisions are presented as done deals.

Consider that you are the parent of one of these two lovers: how would you react to their decisions? I have an extremely hard time believing that many folks would happily go along with their child’s choices. Even if you eliminate the age difference - and 14 years is an awfully big gap - the whole thing seems insanely impetuous and rash; there’s not one logical reason why they need to get married so quickly.

Actually, I know why they have to hook up right away: because it offers a plot device. The decision made by Joey and John forces the film to adopt an artificial timeline, a factor that’s exacerbated by John’s illogical choice to let Matt rule the roost. Had the film followed a sensible path, it definitely would have been less compelling. Here’s the alternate scenario: Joey and John come to her parents’ house and say that they’ve fallen in love and want to get married. However, they realize they’ve only known each other for a brief amount of time, so they want to get to know each other better before they tie the knot. Ooh, the drama!

While the plot found in the finished product obviously adds more tension, the story I describe would have been much more sensible and realistic. However, since that version would lack any high drama, Guess has to go out of its way to manufacture that effect. That’s what I find problematic about it, especially because the movie decides to regard any opposition to the plans of Joey and John as racially motivated.

Yes, Guess just loves to play the race card. Anyone who thinks the two are behaving impetuously doesn’t really feel that way - they’re just racist! While I won’t deny the obstacles that face interracial couples, Guess doesn’t present them in a realistic light. It forces the issue in such an absurd manner that the end result is counterproductive.

I felt extremely frustrated throughout the film because of this element. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner offers some solid acting and it has its heart in the right place, but the extremes to which the story goes to make its point are ridiculous. Characters are made out to be racist just because they don’t support the impulsive actions of an immature and obnoxious spoiled rich girl. Frankly, I thought it was insulting to Poitier to be so willing to ignore logic. John is obviously a bright and usually sensible man, but he goes along with whatever Joey wants. In real life, such a person would clearly understand the non-racial concerns held by others and would react accordingly. Instead, he just blindly follows the whims of his new babe.

This doesn’t work, and neither does much of the drama in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The film earns points for taking on a semi-challenging subject for its era, but it loses them for the heavy-handed and illogical manner in which it proceeds. Guess gets by based on the quality of its performances but ultimately falls short of its goals.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While a few minor concerns dampened my enthusiasm, for the most part the DVD offered a fine picture.

Sharpness seemed generally solid. Some shots of Hepburn appear to use the kind of “glamour lighting” typical for leading ladies in older films - especially if the actress in question needed a little softness to make her look better - but these instances were fairly infrequent. Otherwise the image came across as nicely crisp and well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, but I noticed moderate edge enhancement at times.

The biggest distraction came from grain. General source flaws remained minor, as I noticed only a handful of specks and one quick streak. However, much of the film exhibited a lot of grain, and that factor made the image seem somewhat dingy. I wasn’t sure how much of this came from the original photography, but only a couple of shots – like the one with Joey’s friends at a restaurant – lacked prominent grain.

The graininess made the colors a little less vivid, but they usually looked quite good. The film went with a natural palette, and the hues were lively and full despite the grain. Black levels seemed nicely deep and dark, and shadow detail was equally solid as most low-light situations came across as clear and easily visible. All in all, I thought Guess provided a good viewing experience that fell to a “B” simply because of the distractions caused by the grain.

I also enjoyed the movie’s Dolby Digital 3.0 soundtrack. This mix used the front right, center and left speakers and didn’t feature the rear channels at all. For the most part, this track worked best to broaden the score. The music spread nicely to the sides and offered a solid stereo image. Some dialogue and effects also emanated from the side channels, and they also functioned fairly well. One shouldn’t expect a tremendously tight and well-integrated track, but within the limitations of the era, I found this modest little soundfield to appear pretty solid.

Audio quality seemed somewhat dated but was generally good. Dialogue appeared slightly thin and flat but was acceptably warm and accurate. I detected no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were reasonably realistic and clear - although they also seemed dated and wan at times - while the music sounded fairly lush and bright. Low end was modest at best but the track offered some general depth, particularly via some of the score. The soundtrack of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner wasn’t anything terribly special, but it seems to have held up nicely over the years.

How did the picture and audio of this “40th Anniversary Edition” of Guess compare to those on the prior DVD? I thought both DVDs presented identical soundtracks, but the new transfer offered some moderate improvements. The 2008 version was cleaner and boasted slightly tighter colors. I didn’t think the 2008 transfer gave us a tremendous step up in quality, but it did mark an upgrade.

While the prior DVD came with virtually no extras, this “40th Anniversary Edition” offers a mix of supplements. Only a few pop up on DVD One. Three introductions appear. We get comments from Steven Spielberg (1:07), Tom Brokaw (2:46) and director’s widow Karen Kramer (2:44). Spielberg simply offers banal remarks that reflect his belief in Stanley Kramer’s greatness; his intro is completely extraneous. Brokaw gives us a better feel for the era in which Guess appeared and also offers some interesting personal reflections on Kramer’s flicks, so his notes are considerably more compelling than Spielberg’s. As for Karen Kramer, she digs into a little more social perspective along with the flick’s impact. I like Brokaw’s info better, but Kramer provides decent details.

We also find a Message from Quincy Jones (2:50). He tells us a little about his reflections on it. The material generally consists of banal praise, though, so expect few insights into Jones’ perspective.

With that we shift to DVD Two. We begin with three featurettes. A Love Story of Today runs 29 minutes, 52 seconds and mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from Karen Kramer, filmmakers Garry Marshall and Norman Jewison, Sidney Poitier’s agent Martin Baum, editor Robert Jones, script supervisor Marshall Schlom, film critic Joe Morgenstern, educator/author Salome Thomas-El, and actors Louis Gossett, Jr., Katharine Houghton, and Will Mead. We also get some old remarks from Stanley Kramer. The program looks at the project’s origins and development before it digs into casting, controversies and obstacles during the production, and some racial elements. We also get thoughts about characters and performances as well as the movie’s impact.

At the end of “Today”, it tells us that the “story will continue” in the next featurette. Because of that, I’ll defer my thoughts about it until I can discuss the whole package.

Next comes the 17-minute and 15-second A Special Kind of Love. It features Houghton, Karen Kramer, Mead, Jones, Schlom, Thomas-El, and Morganstern. It also includes older comments from Stanley Kramer and actor Katharine Hepburn. We find some notes about the various actors as well as impressions the movie made on society.

Both “Today” and “Love” prove reasonably informative, but they suffer somewhat from muddled focus. They both attempt to tell us production details along with a view of the flick’s societal impact. Either emphasis would be good, but as the shows attempt both, they lose some depth. I’d prefer completely separate views of these topics, as the programs don’t follow up on them in a terrific manner. They’re still pretty interesting, though, and they include enough useful material to merit a look.

For the final featurette, we locate Stanley Kramer: A Man’s Search For Truth. The 16-minute and 56-second piece includes Jewison, Marshall, Karen Kramer, Schlom, Gossett, filmmaker Taylor Hackford, and actors Dick Van Dyke, Beau Bridges, Dennis Hopper, and Alec Baldwin. We also find more archival remarks from Stanley Kramer.

“Truth” looks at Kramer’s life and his work, with an emphasis on his pursuit of societal issues. That makes “Truth” more introspective than usual, as it accounts for more than just a simple recitation of Kramer’s filmography. Programs like this veer toward a lot of praise, and that does occur here. Nonetheless, it provides a decent glimpse of Kramer and his career, so it becomes worthwhile.

Two archival components come next. We find Stanley Kramer Accepts the Irving Thalberg Award (2:01) and 2007 Producers Guild “Stanley Kramer” Award Presentation to Al Gore (4:38). Of the pair, “Accepts” is the more interesting since it shows Kramer at the 1962 Oscars. “Guild” is less compelling, as it exists mostly to praise Kramer.

Finally, the disc presents a Photo Gallery. We see 48 pictures through this running four-minute and seven-second collection. I don’t much like that format, as it’s a nuisance to access particular images, but the content is good. We find some nice behind the scenes shots.

While the original DVD only included one component, that element fails to materialize here. We lose the movie’s theatrical trailer, which is a disappointment.

I understand the message of social tolerance promoted in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but I can’t be the only viewer who found the methods used to be forced and illogical. The movie remains compelling due to a number of fine performances, but the entire piece can’t quite overcome the lack of common sense found in its tale. The DVD provides reasonably good picture and audio along with some decent but unmemorable extras.

I think this Special Edition of Guess stands as the best version on the market, so it’s the one to buy for fans who don’t own the old disc. However, I’m not so sure it merits a “double dip” for those who already have the prior release. Audio remains the same, but visuals show only moderate improvements; don’t expect a great difference there. The added extras aren’t terribly impressive either. This is an acceptable DVD but it doesn’t stand out as a great one.

Note that you can buy Guess on its own for $24.96 or as part of a five-movie set called “The Stanley Kramer Film Collection”. That release retails for $59.95 and also includes The Wild One, Ship of Fools, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T and The Member of the Wedding. Although the first three can be purchased on their own, I believe that the “Collection” includes new versions of those titles. From what I can tell, this is the initial DVD release of Wedding. As of February 2008, you can get these editions of those four films only as part of the “Collection”; Guess is the only “Collection” set available on its own.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1428 Stars Number of Votes: 14
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main