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Special Spencer

August 24, 2010

by John Farr

This week, Reel 13 airs the Spencer Tracy classic, Father’s Little Dividend. To mark the occasion, John Farr suggests a trio of pictures from his all-time favorite screen actor, the very special Spencer Tracy.


Libeled Lady (1936)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

The ever-smooth Powell plays Bill Chandler, a freelance journalist hired by his old newspaper to squelch a libel suit brought by society heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy). To do this, Bill must make Connie fall in love with him and then place her in a compromising position. Ultimately, he melts her icy exterior, but ends up falling in love himself. What’s a smitten newspaperman to do?

WHY I LOVE IT:

Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1936, Jack Conway’s underexposed screwball comedy is a raucous farce buzzing with zany humor, thanks to a flurry of impeccable one-liners delivered by Powell and Loy, reunited from their pairing in “The Thin Man.” Playing Haggerty, the newspaper’s frantic editor, and Gladys, his continually jilted fiancée, Tracy and Harlow round out a stellar foursome in this fast-paced, ingenious laugh-fest.


Woman of the Year (1942)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Two columnists on the same newspaper–Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn), a female world-affairs commentator, and Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy), a down-to-earth sportswriter-start a feud in print over the pointlessness of sports, but fall in love after Sam takes Tess to her first baseball game. This leads to a blissful walk down the aisle, but both soon find that married life together involves responsibilities which are at odds with their other priorities.

WHY I LOVE IT:

This is romance cinema at its best, exposing with subtlety and humor the phenomenon of two people, opposites in every respect, falling head over heels for each other. The issue then becomes figuring out how to make it work. Watching the picture today, it’s no surprise that Tracy, a gruff, blocky Irish Midwesterner, and Hepburn, a refined, patrician New England beauty, started their famous romance on this movie. Their differences create their unique chemistry and we can’t help but fall in love with them.


Inherit the Wind (1960)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

In this courtroom drama based on the landmark Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s, defense lawyer Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) and fundamentalist prosecutor Matthew Brady (March) face off when schoolteacher Bertram Cates (Dick York), is put in jail for teaching evolution in tiny Hillsboro, Tennessee, with the arrest instigated by his girlfriend’s disapproving father, Rev. Jeremiah Brown (Claude Akins).

WHY I LOVE IT:

Kramer’s spellbinding film features a deft performance by Tracy as the rumpled, deceptively plain-spoken Drummond (modeled on Clarence Darrow), matched by March’s larger than life, virtuoso turn as Matthew Brady (based on William Jennings Bryan). Just sit back, pretend you’re sitting in that humid courtroom, and watch two old pros at work. You’ll re-live history. Also look for Gene Kelly in one of his only serious, non-dancing roles as a cynical journalist based on H.L. Mencken.


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  • comments (0)
  • rayban

    He was a mesmerizing actor almost all of the time, because he didn’t really seem to be acting, did he? Of course, I liked him very much in the films that he made with Katherine Hepburn, especially “Adam’s Rib”. And I loved him all the way in “Father of The Bride” and its sequel,”Father’s Little Dividend”.

  • Nikki

    “Inherit The Wind” is one of my favorite Tracy roles. He has an amazing arc. My favorite speech of his is on the front porch about Dancer, the rocking horse. There is such gentleness, that gives way to such power when he get to the final courtroom scene, and then back to that gentleness, in his sadness, at the collapse of Drumand. A perfect characterization of a beautifully written role.