Review: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Blu-ray: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
What a year 1967 was for Sidney Poitier, not only did he appear in ‘In the Heat of the Night‘ and ‘To Sir, with Love‘, but also starred in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’, perhaps one of the first ‘true’ inter-racial love stories to be depicted on film (earlier films tend to be about Chinese/white, indigenous American/white and mixed race/white relationships with perhaps the exception of ‘Imitation of Life’).
Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton) returns home to her parents with a new fiancé in tow, John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) a widowed doctor, who also happens to be black. Joanna’s parents Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) and his wife Christina Drayton (Katharine Hepburn) give powerhouse performances as upper class supposed ‘liberals’ who have seemingly instilled in her the idea of living by her own morality, and brought her up with a sense of freedom. What follows is, to us now, almost a farce, where confusion ensues and messages are mixed up. Interestingly Poitier’s parents are as horrified about him marrying a white girl, as her parents are about him being black. Even more eye opening is The Drayton’s’ black maid, Tillie (Isabel Sanford), is even more horrified, suspecting that John is trying to ‘get above himself’ by marrying a white woman.
Due to its subject matter, and remembering that movies tend to reflect the time in which they were made, this is an astonishing film for its time. That the film contains a then isolated and rare positive representation of the controversial subject of interracial marriage is a revelation. (Inter racial marriage was illegal in most states of the United States, and still was illegal in 17 mostly Southern states until June 1967, six months before the film was released, and roughly two weeks after Tracy filmed his final scene (and two days after his death).
The ‘prejudice’ in this film comes from Tracy, he cannot give the couple his blessing however because he loves his daughter and he fears that she and John will be destroyed by the prejudice they will encounter. When both sets of parents meet over cocktails at the Drayton home, each parental couple share their views about the situation, the mothers have more faith in their children than the fathers. John’s mother mentions that the men are forgetting about the ‘passion’ between the couple, which one could read as ‘the black man and his primal desires stirring up wanton abandonment from their whiter than white daughter’. And that’s the thing about this film, yes, it IS a stone cold classic of cinema, and incredibly brave if somewhat whitewashed for its time. No one could accuse it of being gritty. But it is essentially a film OF its time, and that time was nearly 50 years ago. It even has a ‘love will conquer all’ ending. However, it IS a great film, entertaining and it does make you reflect on how times have changed, probably not so much for the better!