Introducing Your Partner of a Different Background to Your Parents? Prepare Them With This

Sometimes I get lucky when attempting my challenge of watching all films featured in the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all time like this weekend when just as I was wondering how I’m going to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon I came across a film which needed to be ticked off my list. Actually my brother came across it after trying to give a Danny Dyer and Martin Kemp flick a shot, but only lasting ten minutes before changing the channel (what did he expect it to be? A masterpiece?). ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner? (1967: AFI, 1998 #99) couldn’t be further away from a British gangster film set in the noughties. Firstly there is hardly any action and most of the movie takes place in one location, the house of Mr and Mrs Drayton played by arguably the greatest screen couple to have ever graced the silver screen; Spencer Tracy and the most successful female Oscar winner of all time (yup, even more successful than Meryl Streep, would you believe?) Katherine Hepburn.

Trailer for the 1967 Oscar winning movie ‘Guess who’s coming to Dinner?

Set in an affluent  white upper middle class neighbourhood  in San Francisco in the 1960s the story centres around the Drayton’s whose liberal tolerance gets tested when their daughter introduces them to her black fiancé played by Sidney Poitier – who is the first black actor to win an Oscar (although not for this role, but ‘Lilies in the Field). The plot is simple and hardly shocking by today’s standards, but for the time when racial tension in North America was at an all time high it was perhaps a surprise that Stanley Kramer’s movie was a critical and commercial success. Even more startling is that it was well received in the notoriously racist Southern States and released just a year before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. There is even a scene where the family’s black maid Tillie who is clearly the most offended by the presence of Poitier sarcastically asks if “The Reverend Martin Luther King” is coming to dinner too?

968full-guess-who27s-coming-to-dinner-screenshot

Maid Tillie interrogates Poitier

The movie definitely deserves its spot on the AFI’s top 100 films of all time list – it highlights the deep rooted racial prejudices even the most tolerant people have. Kramer wanted to make Poitier’s character Dr. John Wayde Prentice Jr. flawless – he is well educated, respectful and does not believe in sex before marriage – he is a perfect suitor for Joey. The only that is preventing her parents from jumping for joy is that he is black.

The subject matter of this blockbuster is sadly relevant in today’s society. Even though interracial relationships are more common than ever there is a still a stigma attached to them. But naively I was under the impression that in the UK non-black ethnic minorities were the only group who still found it difficult introducing their families to their partner from a different background and that black and white people were better integrated. But after watching the British comedy ‘Chewing Gum (2015)’ I realised some black people found it hard tell their parents they were dating a white person as protagonist Tracey (no relation to Spencer) does throughout the first series. Perhaps roles are reversed and ethnic minorities are now the ones who seem to find it hard to accept other races into their families rather than just white people.

Although ‘Guess who’s coming to Dinner’ had the happy ending we liberal people of the Twenty-First Century hoped for I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing that this was Spencer Tracy’s last movie before his death – he died only two weeks after completing the film. So his heartfelt speech where he declares that he accepts the relationship is even more poignant as it feels this is farewell to his onscreen and real life lover Hepburn and to the world as he knew his time was drawing an end.

Spencer Tracy gives his memorable speech weeks before his death

Nevertheless the legacy of Tracy and his unforgettable character Mr Drayton still lives on; not only was his last role considered one of his finest he was also the inspiration for lovable Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s classic animated ‘Up! (2009). For the exceptional characters and acting from the crème a La crème of Hollywood as well as the topic that is still a subject of conversation today  – I give this flick 4.5 out of 5.

walt-disney-up-spencer-tracy_650x435

Lead character in ‘Up’ is inspired by Spencer Tracy

The movie can also be a useful tool to show to your parents before bringing someone home they may not approve off as suggested by my brother – I wonder who he’s planning on bringing home to meet the folks

 

Bank holiday movie mayhem!

In the U.K. over the past weekend we have been celebrating our first Bank Holiday weekend of the summer – and you know what that means? More classic movies on T.V. It seems like the perfect time for television stations to put on a matinee for people to reminisce about yesteryear, I’m an oldie at heart so I welcome a black and white noir over a Transformers/Avengers/Captain America (they are depressingly all the same to me) action nonsense any day.

Unfortunately I only managed to catch one film on ‘MORE 4’, but it is considered an absolute classic, starring two of cinema history’s most prolific actors, in fact they were both listed as the ultimate screen legends of by AFI – Humphry Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in ‘African Queen’ (#17 in 1998, #65 in 2007). The announcer even stated that “You don’t get more A-lister” than these two when introducing the movie directed by the equally iconic John Huston. So I was definitely hyped up, this is going to be great I thought. So I sat down just before midday on a lazy Sunday morning to watch two veterans act their heart out.

Screen legends Hepburn & Bogart

The thing that strikes me most about the movie is that it is a lot more vintage than it seems, maybe because it is shot in Technicolor or maybe because it was shot on location outside the States or Europe which was unusual for 1951. It was made only a year after ‘All about Eve’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard’ which seems like a lifetime ago when you watch it. Perhaps the modern feel is contributed to the fact that the black actors (or extras) where not playing domestic staff which is what they seemed to have done in most films pre-1960.

The movie is made well; I particularly like the opening scene where Hepburn and onscreen brother Robert Morley who are missionaries unsuccessfully attempt to get local villages to sing hymns with them. They are cramped in a hot and stuffy ‘church’ with traditional tribal wear on and it is evident they don’t know any English and are there against their own will. The noises they make whilst trying to ‘sing’ is pretty horrendous but the scene is striking as Huston’s close shot of the tribal people who are half naked is a complete contrast to the pristine English middle class demeanour of Hepburn and Morley. It is ironic that these people who are ‘trying’ to help attempt to shoot them later in the movie. The film must have opened audiences in 1950s America to a whole new culture they’d never experienced.

It nice to see Bogie in a colour film, one of the few he did before his untimely death a few years later and he thoroughly deserved his Oscar, surprisingly his only one – perhaps the Academy felt guilty about not giving him one for ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or ‘Casablanca’ so they felt obliged to give it this time. If they gave one to Sinatra it was only right that the founder of the Rat Pack got one too. Nevertheless the film has cemented it’s self as one of the most culturally significant movies of all time, beautifully shot with superb acting – it definitely deserves its place on the AFI 100 movie list.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that parts of the film were shot at Isleworth Studios, which is my home town in London and now sadly a block of flats. I told my family about this and my brother said Bogie and Hepburn “where probably chilling in a café somewhere down the road”. A thrilling thought!

Watch Bogart win his Best Actor Oscar