Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Judy Holliday
Director: George Cukor
Running Time: 101 mins
Adam’s Rib is an American film about a husband and wife who take on opposing sides as lawyers in a case of attempted murder, in which the equality of women’s rights and the rule of law are brought before the jury in a high-profile game of back and forth.
You can’t go wrong with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy starring opposite one another, but adding a level of courtroom intrigue on top of the dynamic duo’s classic romantic chemistry makes Adam’s Rib all the more of a delight.
While it admittedly isn’t the world’s most down-to-earth courtroom drama, this film cleverly blends legal intrigue with classic romantic comedy fare, simultaneously playing on the classic screwball comedies of the era with an entertaining and impassioned take on the battle of the sexes.
And it’s there where I want to start, because the battle of the sexes was a major theme in Hollywood rom-coms throughout the 1940s, albeit often reserved for more light-hearted, farcical affairs.
These were most often ‘screwball’ comedies, where the female leads were portrayed as more powerful and tough than the men, upending genre and gender conventions for a good few laughs.
It’s a great genre that turned out classics like Bringing Up Baby, but Adam’s Rib is a bit of a step forward, with Hepburn and Tracy on very level terms throughout, making their duel in the courtroom and the wider fight for gender equality all the more intriguing.
While the film is full of laughs, and the leading couple’s on-screen chemistry is an absolute delight throughout, Adam’s Rib is by no means the light-hearted screwball you might expect it to be. There’s depth and passion behind the screenplay, and the film isn’t afraid to go to some darker places in the main characters’ marriage to showcase the inconsistencies in which different genders are treated.
What’s more is that, while much of the film revolves around Hepburn’s character using the case at hand as a platform for advocating that women be treated equally in law courts, Adam’s Rib also looks at things from the other perspective, and doesn’t allow itself to get too carried away with a gripping feminist themes.
Admittedly, there are times when the lengths to which Hepburn takes her cause seems almost impossibly distant from the case at hand, and the fact that she isn’t picked up on it quite as much seems rather ridiculous. It’s an engaging watch that also makes for some laughs, but that is one of the more far-fetched elements of the film.
That being said, the passion behind the film’s central themes of feminism and equality is second to none, and it makes what could have been another easy screwball comedy into something a lot more interesting, and often genuinely thought-provoking.
And of course, Tracy and Hepburn are absolute dynamite together from start to finish, whether they’re doing battle on opposite sides of the courtroom or settling in for a quiet evening together at home. Their legendary chemistry is on display for all to see here, and it makes for a wonderful watch throughout.
Overall, then, I thoroughly enjoyed Adam’s Rib. Although there are moments when it can get a little carried away, the film is more than the typical 1940s screwball fare, with a blend of light-hearted, fun-loving comedy and genuinely captivating courtroom drama and feminist themes. Bolstered by two spectacular main performances as ever, it’s a thoroughly entertaining watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.8.