Woman of the Year
"Woman of the Year" is the first of the nine films featuring the beloved duo of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Released in 1942, the film is typical for its day -- set in New York, but concerned with events in Europe -- and it remains topical now. Ring Lardner and Michael Kanin's Academy Award-winning screenplay skillfully blends humor and realism, depicting the joys and fault lines of a marriage between an effortlessly competent, brilliant woman and a decent, but more traditional, man.
The woman is named Tess Harding (Hepburn). She speaks six or seven languages and writes a column on world politics for a major metropolitan daily newspaper. The man is sports columnist Sam Craig (Tracy), who speaks the language of the boxscore, the boxing ring, and all other such athletic endeavors. Much less concerned about the wider world than the arena of competition, Sam is nonetheless smitten with Tess' beauty, brains, and manner -- until that is, he finds himself second banana to her career.
The problem isn't just one from the 1940s when women entered the workforce and proved themselves capable as a matter of national wartime necessity. It's a problem today, too, as forces for "tradition" decry feminism and equality, and pine for the now-impossible days of a male breadwinner coming home at night to the home-cooked meal (and well-run household) of his subservient wife, there to bestow his naturally superior wisdom on all matters requiring moral guidance or common sense. This makes for a pretty picture, to some, but it's nonsense, and people knew it back then just as they do now -- this film is proof of that, and yet the evasive balance between career and marriage remains a sticking point for women even now.
"Woman of the Year" does deal with a few hyperboles. Craig is the sort of casual racist who cheerfully tells a non-English speaking man in a turban that he looks ridiculous "with that towel on your head," and pretends to read a Chinese-language newspaper with a mocking string of gibberish words. Tess, meantime, is so recklessly ambitious that she adopts a Greek refugee boy without giving the matter any serious consideration or even consulting her husband about it. When her marriage starts to crumble, her anguish seems to stem as much, or more, from the prospect of failure -- at anything -- as the idea of losing the love of her life.
But the core conflicts remain potent, and recognizable true, making this an enduring social document. It's also a fine movie, with stellar performances. Hepburn was never better than here, and Tracy's everyman strength and charm shine. The film is solidly put together (Joseph L. Mankiewicz produces), and its black and white cinematography (by Joseph Ruttenberg) is a joy to behold.
This Criterion Collection edition presents the film in a new 2K restoration. The hefty extras include new and archival material -- a 1967 interview (audio only) with director George Stevens; a new interview with George Stevens, Jr., and a new interview with the director's biographer, Marilyn Ann Moss; a feature-length documentary by Stevens, Jr. about his father; an hour and a half long documentary from 1986 in which Hepburn reviews Tracy's career; a new interview with journalist/essayist/biographer Claudia Roth Pierpont about Hepburn; and a booklet essay by TIME Magazine film critic Stephanie Zacharek.
"Woman of the Year" is an essential inclusion to Criterion's catalog, and to your collection.
"Woman of the Year"