Woman of the Year

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Apr 24, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Despite being in no danger of being wholly forgotten – thanks to its stars and director – Woman of the Year is a classic Hollywood film that could use the recognition bump that accompanies a Criterion release. The first of nine films over a nearly three-decade period to team stars and real-life lovers Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Woman of the Year is also one of the last films directed by George Stevens before he and his filmography would be irrevocably changed by his experiences shooting documentaries during World War II.

Capitalizing on the success of her 1940 comeback The Philadelphia Story, Hepburn stars as another high-minded independent woman who is cut down to size by the love of a more traditionally-minded man. Here she plays Tess Harding, the worldly, opinionated daughter of a diplomat turned political columnist for a major New York newspaper. Tracy is Sam Craig, a plain-spoken sports writer who finds himself feuding with Tess and eventually falling in love with her. Unlike many romantic comedies of Golden era Hollywood, which often compress the “meet cute to true love” timeline to a madcap weekend, Woman of the Year takes a wider, more realistic approach. Set over many months, the film does an excellent job of making the viewer believe that these to people would be fascinated by each other while also demonstrating how irreconcilable their priorities are. The film’s preoccupation with gender is obvious throughout – one early scene has Tess giving a speech to a feminist group – but makes for some interesting dynamics. Despite being a sports-obsessed, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, Sam is cast as the traditional female within the relationship, waiting up at home while Tess pursues her career and being disappointed by her general lack of interest in domesticity. It was apparently this attempt by Stevens and Hepburn to address the changing dynamics of women in the workplace during the early 1940s that led to the studio forcing them to include the embarrassing final scene in which Tess is completely stymied by the task of cooking Sam breakfast, a clear indication that she needs to find a life balance that includes being a traditional wife. The film presents this a fair compromise, but will seem painfully regressive to modern viewers who just spent the previous two hours watching one of cinema’s most powerful actresses own every room she walks into.

The films’ progressive/regressive dichotomy is helpfully contextualized by the special features that distinguish so many Criterion releases, including interviews with George Stevens, Jr. as well as Stevens biographer Marilyn Ann Moss and Hepburn expert Claudia Roth Pierpont. Also included are two full-length made-for-television documentaries; one about Stevens directed by his son and one about Tracy, hosted by Hepburn.


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