Another battle of wits from Tracy-Hepburn collaborations (their sixth), in Cukor’s ADAM’S RIB, they play married lawyers Adam and Amanda Bonner, who respectively becomes the prosecutor and defense lawyer of the trial against Doris Attinger (Holliday, making her strong mark with an affecting personality), a distraught housewife who shoots and wounds her two-timed husband Warren (Ewell) in flagrante delictio with his mistress Beryl Caighn (Hagen, a silver screen debuttante).
Amanda surmounts a vantage point by drawing on this case to flout the inveterate double standard based on genders, if Doris were a man, could her action be considered differently? Whereas Adam cleaves to the letter of the law, Doris must be punished for her reckless, dangerous action, her gender is irrelevant, both sides are valid discretely, but to beat the drum for the rectification of gender inequality, it is wise and accountable that Amanda’s view should prevail because there is urgency at stake.
The ensuing court scenes see the couple cross-examine various witnesses, address to the jury with compassionate persuasion (goosebumps are induced by Hepburn’s clinking elocution and cadence since a female lawyer holding court is quite at a premium then), more amusingly, Amanda’s frivolous pageant of women who can best the stronger sex, both intellectually and physically, incredibly turns the court into an almost three-ring circus, let alone reducing an exasperating Adam to a laughingstock, as he is single-handedly hoisted by a female weightlifter (Emerson, what a stunt!) in front of the whole court.
While that far-fetched segment is purely actualized for laughter, the script (co-written by the sui generis Ruth Gordon) sedulously offers validation of Adam’s standpoint, Amanda is fighting a worthy cause, but her action also smacks of contempt of court. Finally, when Adam gains an upper hand in exacting a Freudian slip from Amanda in panic, this battle of gender reaches an even-handed truce, and fence-mending is the most natural thing to bring down the curtain.
Alternating the Bonner’s diurnal litigation with their nightly domestic activity, Cukor’s film engenders more zest and zinger behind the closed door, interposing a scene-stealing David Wayne as a brazen third wheel, the songwriter living across the door, who has the chutzpah to chant Cole Porter’s “Farewell, Amanda” to woo the woman, and minutes later, flamboyantly shoot the putdowns to her miffed husband, yet, under the safer hands of Tracy and Hepburn, they quip, spat, smooch, reconcile in a whirlpool of screwball-light tempo, and that final waterworks-turning trick briskly conduces to the leitmotif in question, difference aside, equality reigns.
referential entries: George Stevens’ WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942, 6.6/10); Cukor’s BORN YESTERDAY (1950, 7.3/10).