Woman of the Year (1942)
Woman of the Year (1942)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.

Release Date: February 5th, 1942 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: George Stevens Actors: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Fay Bainter, Reginald Owen, Minor Watson, William Bendix, Gladys Blake, Dan Tobin, Roscoe Karns

 


 

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ntellectual, political reporter Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn) of The New York Chronicle influences citizens across the country, especially as she weighs in on such serious things as the ongoing war. “Seems like a frightful waste of energy,” she comments about American baseball during a radio interview, revealing that she has no time for frivolous activities. This, of course, upsets a number of listeners who cling to the sport as a traditional pastime representative of the great U.S. of A. – a recreation to keep heads held high during times of conflict.

“Man-About Sports” columnist Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy), who writes for the same paper, opts to reciprocate by penning a new article that calls into question Tess’ patriotism and knowledge of the common man, beginning a war of words that spans several retaliatory columns. Controversy may be a very stimulating thing, but the editor won’t have intramural bickering, quickly insisting that they give up the spat. “I’ll kiss; I don’t know about making up.”

As it so happens, when the two meet to settle their quarrel, it’s love at first sight (she only gets to see his face and suit and the intro to yet another disparaging column, but he gets to see the entire lengths of her slender, stocking-clad legs). When he invites her to a Yankees ball game, she’s an immediate nuisance, unaware of the rules or the point of the match, yet by the ninth inning, she’s just like any one of the crowd, cheering rambunctiously for the home team. This is rather surprising, considering that she’s initially welcomed by sexist press box men (a sign of the era, eventually followed by some blatantly racist remarks) and a loud, mouthy fan seated directly behind her – which would be enough to put anyone off the sport. A dinner party invitation that evening, extended to Sam in return, switches up the environment, placing the sports writer amid a group of socialites and foreign dignitaries. Expectedly, he’s uncomfortable and out of his element – an appropriately embarrassing reprisal.

But he’s madly in love, which means he’ll put up with the slight, along with a series of other scenarios designed to test his resolve and change his viewpoint – alongside the audience’s – of a powerful, independent woman who certainly doesn’t need a man to be successful. “I hope I haven’t ruined your day.” It’s a witty battle-of-the-sexes, in which Sam is constantly outmatched, as Tess proves to be extremely strong-willed, brainy, carefully seductive, and fast-paced. In many ways, as an inspirational feminist figure, it’s somewhat disappointing that Harding acquiesces to the charms of her romantic counterpart (though, thanks to the code of ethics, he’s a gentleman to a remarkable degree). She is, on her own, one of the most admirable, attractive characters in any film of the early ’40s (a persona that matches many of the ones Hepburn previously excelled at, yet here she’s calmer, sweeter, more refined, and less overtly comical).

In between worrying about an important Yugoslavian statesman and zipping back and forth across the country for work, Tess handles her lover like an afterthought, which understandably riles the placidly-paced lifestyle and tranquil demeanor of the newspaperman. They’re largely incompatible. This results in a bit of slapstick, late-night mix-ups, and Craig continuing to be left in the dust. Curiously, despite the intermittent jolts of humor, especially when Sam revolts against the neglect, “Woman of the Year” is much more of a drama than a comedy. The moments of levity are terribly quiet, subtle affairs.

To match Sam’s personality is a slowness in the plot, though Hepburn manages to give a delightful performance even in duller sequences; she exists partially in fantasy, while he inhabits a more somber reality. At one point, when Sam converses with his father-in-law (Minor Watson) about loneliness and the difficulties of marriage, the mood turns downright dour; and it does so again when Tess’ humanitarian efforts and the titular award she receives prove quite stressful for their impromptu family unit. Toward the end, it’s evident that neither one can balance their careers – or each other’s – with their personal lives.

Unfortunately, even when Tess is meant to be the manipulative villain, it’s Sam who appears petty and misguided. “Why can’t we sit down like adults and patch this thing up?” she suggests, only for him to turn down the offer, as if it’s a senseless concept. Perhaps this is due to the time period, but for a film that starts with such a substantial, self-sufficient female character, it’s distressing to see her have to crawl back and change her ways (and familiarize herself with a kitchen) to please a man. It’s difficult to imagine “Woman of the Year” being all that satisfying when it premiered, let alone as when, throughout the years, it fails to stand the test of time, both with progressiveness and entertainment value.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10