Joey (Katharine Houghton) and John (Sidney Poitier) have fallen in love and plan to get married--after knowing each other for less than two weeks. When Joey takes John home to meet her parents (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy), they are met with shock and hesitation. John only has one day before he has to board a plan to go to Geneva but doesn't want to marry Joey unless they have her parent's complete support.
It will be impossible to walk away from this film without feeling like you've experienced something wonderful. Unlike the more recent remake starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner doesn't treat the issue of interracial relationships as a punchline. Made in 1967, Guess was a film that pushed boundaries. To put this all into context, at the time of filming interracial marriage was illegal in 17 states and blacks had only received the right to vote four years earlier. America was strife with racial tension and this film was one of the first to depict interracial marriage in a positive light.
Hepburn would go on to receive an Academy Award for her role in this film and it is well deserved. She lights up the screen with her easy elegance and long-forged chemistry with Spencer Tracy. Tracy's speech at the end of film is easily the most heart-warming moment of the entire one hundred and forty-eight minutes. And as Stacy's last role--he died two weeks after finishing filming--it is one that he and his family can certainly be proud of. He plays the lovable but over-protective father to perfection. Tracy and Hepburn's long history performing with each other plays out wonderfully as they were able to portray a long-timed, happily married couple all that more convincingly.
Hepburn and Tracy were fantastic but this film has received its fair share of criticism. Probably in large part because of the racial tension in America at the time, the script writers made the young couple in the center of the turmoil almost too perfect. Poitier's character is a doctor, who graduated from a prestigious school at the top of his class, helps sick children in Africa, is polite, dresses well, doesn't want to engage in pre-martial sex...in a nutshell he's perfect. While Houghton's character is sweet, trusting, young and naive--almost too naive for a young girl growing up in America in the 1960's. Joey doesn't just believe that interracial marriage shouldn't be an issue--it shouldn't--but she doesn't even seem to think that anyone else will either. The audience isn't given a chance to get to know her and she can come off as ditzy and oblivious--she never once acknowledges the trouble she and her future family might encounter.
But despite the criticism, this is a film that should be appreciated not only for it's entertainment value but for it's cultural significance. It was bold movie attempting to break ground in a tumultuous time in America--and I would argue that many of it's messages are still relevant today. But political and social, this story at the heart is about love--now that is something that we can all understand.