Monday, February 13, 2017

Film Flick: Without Love


Neither are looking for love. Widow Jaime Rowan (Katherine Hepburn) thinks she's had all the best of love, while scientist Pat Jamison (Spencer Tracy) seems to have had all the worst of it. Pat has landed in D.C. right in the middle of a major housing shortage when an encounter with a stranger leads him to the home of Jaime. It seems a perfect place to work on his scientific project  aiding the war effort, and Jaime seems a perfect assistant- except an unmarried man and woman living together?  Matrimony seems the best way to keep up with convention and get what they want at the same time. And after all, they reason, maybe a marriage would work better Without Love?

The plot may sound a bit hokey, but as far as MGM was concerned, the plot wasn't really the point of this film.  After the hit of Woman of the Year, studio execs knew they had a powerful pairing on their hands. Katherine Hepburn softened in the presence of Spencer Tracy (on screen and off, it seemed) while Tracy finally gained sex appeal around such a woman. But how to replicate their first success? Ultimately, this duo would create nine films together, but their first follow-up Keeper of the Flame, did not fare well with critics, though it actually made even more money than their first film. It was clear though, they needed another romantic comedy to get that spark back.

For someone who had once been labelled "box office poison" and been exiled from Hollywood for several years, Katherine Hepburn's career after her comeback seems remarkable. She essentially began producing the movies she made. She often brought Mayor scripts that fit her, asked for directors and co-stars that complimented her needs, and arranged for new talent to get screen tested and then put into pictures with her. This is exactly what happened with what would become the third Hepburn/Tracy pairing, Without Love.

Philip Barry wrote the Broadway play Without Love with Hepburn in mind for the starring role, as he had years earlier with the play turned Hepburn's career around, The Philadelphia Story (As an aside, Hepburn also acted in one more Barry play that she would later star in the movie version of.That play/film was  Holiday). Interestingly, Barry had  Spencer Tracy in mind for the male lead when they cast the play, but the producers would not hire him due to his drinking problem. They instead cast effete Elliot Nugent. The chemistry wasn't there, but Hepburn's star power was; it was enough that the play was a success and rights to the script were eventually bought by the studio. Donald Ogden Stewart adapted the Broadway show into a screenplay, just as he had done with The Philadelphia Story.

Bolstering Hepburn and Tracy were several actors who would go on to be big names. Lucille Ball took on the role Kitty Trimble, a lady who was effectively the heroine's best friend and one half of the second banana couple. Though today's audience would recognize this character's ballsy, funny attitude as prime fodder for the actress, it was new ground for Ball at the time. The Nation's review of the movie shared, "It is good to see Lucille Ball doing so well with a kind of role new to her." As for Ball's love interest, it was none other than Keenan Wynn.


On paper it looks like the film has everything you could ask for- a good playwright and script doctor; a leading couple to die for; and a cast of dynamos even for the support roles. Still, Without Love earned only a lukewarm reception from critics and deservedly so. The New York Times perhaps said it best, when it urged the public, "[that] you should all go to the theatre, for, despite its gab and weaknesses in spots, 'Without Love' is really most amusing." Being "amusing" is hardly the worst a film could be, but it is faint praise. In its own review, the Harrison Report seemed to point out that the film's strongest quality is its weakest too, stating "[The film has] more talk than action, but the sparkling dialogue is a compensating factor."

Overall, in addition to a contrived plot, the tension never mounts to the tension present in Woman of the Year or Adams Rib. Yet, even while that lack of tension makes the film feel a bit unfocussed, for me, it  also feels a bit more relaxing to watch too. Both main actors are allowed some fun comedic moments without veering into the truly madcap. It is the quite moments that seem to sell the story though. Tracy's best performance soften project a calm and understated presence, as is the case here, and Hepburn's character, a widow, is allowed to be vulnerable as well as intelligent. The supporting cast is fun and funny too. Overall, it may not be the most stand-out of their work together, but this Hepburn/Tracy film is solidly enjoyable, one you can't watch Without Love. 

2 comments:

  1. I was just thinking the other day that I need to watch more Katherine Hepburn movies!

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    Replies
    1. Yes! She's delightful. Personally, I liked this movie just to watch her and Tracy interact.

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