Of all the complaints we hear nowadays about modern movies (dull characters, audience-tested plots, too much dependence on special effects), one of our favorites is the death of the screen couple. Sure, A-list Hollywood stars often are thrown together for individual projects Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck, Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford but it's rare when enough chemistry comes out of these to create a running series of films. In fact, the only real stab at a modern screen couple lately has been Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, who, based on the success of Pretty Woman, reunited in 1999 for Runaway Bride. But that barely counts. The great screen couples of cinema belong to the past, in a world where Humphrey Bogart is always having a drink with Lauren Bacall, where Cary Grant is giving Ingrid Bergman his best drop-dead-gorgeous grin. And there can be no doubt that the greatest ever were real-life couple Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Hepburn and Tracy's film career together spanned 25 years, from 1942's Woman of the Year to the 1967 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, and included such notables as Desk Set, Without Love, and Pat and Mike. Perhaps their most popular collaboration was in 1949, in George Cukor's witty battle of the sexes Adam's Rib.
Hepburn and Tracy star as husband-and-wife lawyers Amanda and Adam Bonner, she a defense attorney, he an Assistant D.A. Their carefree life is sustained by a good income and many sophisticated friends, but when betrayed wife Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) shoots her husband Warren Attinger (Tom Ewell) after catching him with bimbo Beryl Caighn (Jean Hagen), Adam is assigned to prosecute her. It's bothersome enough, as he doesn't want the seedy case, but what's worse is that Amanda sees a double-standard in the law, where a man would be forgiven for protecting his family from a homewrecker but a woman could barely get a fair trial under the same circumstances. Armed with a fierce legal education and an even fiercer temperament in the courtroom, Amanda takes Doris's case, which places her opposite her rational-minded, often grumpy hubby. Adam's Rib is among the smartest comedies from Hollywood's golden age, and it is made smarter with a script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, a well-regarded writing team who were married themselves. Cukor, who previously directed Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, is at the top of his form here, and with a strong cast he often relies on them to carry the film without any help from behind the camera (watch the initial interview between Hepburn and Holliday it's a perfectly timed bit of comedy, and all done in just one take). The supporting cast is a particular treat, as they all went on to star in some classic Hollywood comedies in their own right (Holliday in Born Yesterday, Ewell in The Seven-Year Itch, Hagen in Singin' in the Rain), and David Wayne as singing neighbor Kip Lurie gets in some very funny lines, even when he's battling Hepburn and Tracy for screen-time.
Warner's DVD edition of Adam's Rib, previously released by MGM, features a strong transfer in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and the black-and-white print is very clean and has good low-contrast details. Audio is in the original mono (as Dolby Digital 1.0), and the original theatrical trailer is on board. Worth a spot in every film buff's DVD library.