Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy have gone down in history as an iconic couple. They shared the screen for nine films, engaged in a tumultuous affair in their private lives (mostly due to Tracy’s antiquated ideals and hypocrisy) and charmed audiences with their charisma and banter. They seemed to always have been in love, but each couple has their start even if it is a couple that exists solely on-screen. Woman of the Year was that start for them.
Woman of the Year is a simple story about opposites attracting and falling in love only to realize that it might not work. Katherine Hepburn is a political journalist that is very famous. She speaks several different languages, makes grandiose speeches, is intimate friends with very important people, and writes columns about the war. She wants to make a difference in this messed up world of ours and she seems to be doing it. Spencer Tracy is sports journalist that just loves a good baseball game. He has his own column and a modest sum and that seems to be just fine by him. When Hepburn’s character Tess Harding blasts baseball on a radio interview that Tracy’s character Sam Craig overhears, Craig takes to his column to call her out. She blasts back only to have both of them called into their editor’s office and forced to make up. Sam likes the way Tess looks and invites her to a baseball game. After this baseball game they are both smitten and decide to get married. But Tess has no time for Sam. She doesn’t wait patiently for him to come home from a trip to Chicago or fix him meals or compliments him on his new hat. This of course spells trouble for the marriage. Struggles ensue and a break up happens only to be… well I won’t give anything away, but let’s just say it was made in the forties.
Although the film is overtly sexist, it is still Hepburn’s film. Tracy sort of lumbers around like a whiny sports loving wet blanket, but Hepburn charms the pants off of everything. You just cannot take your eyes off of her. She pulls off comic scenes with ease but then can be dramatic without aping or crying. It is a wonder to behold. I could watch her all day. Tracy however could be anyone. The charisma is not quite there for the two of them yet. You can see a hint of magical surprises to come, but nowhere near the point of Adam’s Rib for instance.
The domestic struggles and struggle for gender dominance will be a continuing theme for Hepburn and Tracy’s career on-screen together. However it will be handled in a more even way than this film pulls off. From the moment Sam steals a look at Tess fixing her hosiery, you know that Sam is going to be in the right and Tess is somehow always in the wrong. It is frustrating to know that instead of having them learn how to eschew traditional roles, Tess instead is going to be forced to be the docile housewife. I hate when you can see the directors hand and prejudice from the beginning.
If you want to see Hepburn and Tracy together making movie magic, I would suggest watching the films they did with Cukor instead. He was more sensitive to the roles that men and women play in relationships and he gave both of them equal time to shine in both their comedic and their dramatic sensibilities. I would suggest this film only after you have seen everything else of their output and want to see the origin of it. Or if you like odd hats and elegant women pantsuits.