The 60s comedy that was poetic as it was delightful.
As you know, Sidney Poitier has passed away last week, and lately, AMC Theaters show special screenings of classic movies made by or starring the recently departed. His 1967 comedy classic will be showing at select AMC Theaters locations this weekend, and I saw it and loved it. It was the movie that not only inspired that Bernie Mac/Ashton Kutcher remake, but also inspired the set-up for “Shrek 2.” It comes from a time when mixed relationships were illegal in most of the United States, and to really appreciate “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is to acknowledge its poetic values and sly wit that merges within.
Poitier plays John Prentice, who lost his wife and son in a car accident, and a few years later on a Hawaiian vacation, he falls in love with a white girl named Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton, Katharine Hepburn’s niece), and they become engaged. She brings him to her hometown in San Francisco, where her parents are speechless.
This was also the final performance from Spencer Tracy, who passed away after filming his last scene. He plays the girl’s father Matt, while Katharine Hepburn is the girl’s mother Christina, whose eyes look like she’s in tears.
Simultaneously, John has yet to tell his parents (Roy Glenn and Beah Richards) his love is white, and when they meet him in San Francisco, they’re speechless, too.
Both parents have their respective scenes about how they really feel about this mixed relationship. Either they would try to understand or they would disapprove of the engagement. But they learn to acknowledge that their kids are happy with each other, and monologues are presented in the most inspiring lights.
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, who was also known for making “The Defiant Ones,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” and “The Caine Mutiny,” among others. Here, he and screenplay writer William Rose both present this serious subject manner in a charming fashion, while keeping the poetic and emotional values in tact.
Poitier has the words and inspiration to let his character be persistent to marry the one he loves. Tracy gives his farewell performance in the most emotional way possible. Hepburn and Richards both deliver sentimental performances as the mothers. Glenn also knows how to be a father concerned about his son’s future. And Isabel Sanford has the right attitude as the maid, who also disapproves of John and Joey’s romance.
A new generation of movie-goers, who don’t see much movies from the past, would probably think “Guess Who” or “Shrek 2” had original set-ups, but they should appreciate “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” for inspiring those films. Even a friend of mine was appalled by that.
But this comedy was a whole lot more than that. It was about the risks about mixed relationships in the past, and it was illegal for a while. We need to acknowledge the diversity the movie’s message is trying to convey, and it’s uplifting in every sense of the word.
Poitier, who just past away, will always be remembered for his performances and influence for today’s African-American talents, and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is a landmark film. Don’t overlook this. Go back in time and see it.