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ADAM'S RIB
1949
Written by Ruth Gordon & Garson Kanin and directed by George Cukor
101 Minutes
Unrated

Wait, what the hell am I doing? Reviewing a fairly well known comedy that's close to sixty years old, starring name actors, directed by a name director? The reason Adam's Rib gets a free ride into a review is a simple one: I hadn't even really heard of it before taking a class on campus, and there's a good chance that younger members of my potential readership haven't either.

Let it be known that I am not a fan of Production Code era movies; for those of you uninitiated, the Production Code was established by the MPAA in the 1930s to basically keep the government from interfering with and censoring motion pictures. The problem, of course, was that the Production Code was absurdly restrictive, and despite producing a couple of great films here and there that somehow managed to occur naturally without the aid of all the prurient content and otherwise good stuff that modern films have at their disposal, it wound up doing more harm than good and setting American film back a good ways. Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player, from 1960, has a really great scene that openly mocks the way the Production Code has crippled American cinema: A prostitute is sitting topless in bed with the main character, and then she "plays American" by lifting the sheet up and covering herself.

Jesus Christ, they're just breasts.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the Production Code more or less neutered American film until it fell out of fashion in favor of the ratings system in the mid-1960s. While I don't subscribe to the notion that every movie needs profanity, violence, and fucking to be quality, it's generally been accepted that these are tools that more challenging or avant garde work likes to have at its disposal.

So why am I reviewing a film from the middle of an era of American film that I generally revile? Well, because honestly, I laughed. I thought it was pretty funny and substantially smarter than a lot of the old comedies I've had to watch in class. Where the battle of the sexes is practically the reason for being for the vast majority of "classic" comedies, it feels like Adam's Rib is where it graduates from a "battle" to a "war."

What made it work for me wasn't the goofy shit that seems to grab most people who like these older films, the kinds of plot contrivances that these films were rife with but would get unceremoniously booed off screen by modern critics. No, what made it work was the level of intelligence operating under it that I found rarefied in the other works I've seen recently. The relationship depicted between Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn's characters in this film is dynamic and layered, and while I'm pretty sure no self-respecting husband would let a guy like Kip within three hundred feet of his wife, Tracy and Hepburn are otherwise very believable in their roles. There's an attraction, warmth, and articulated sensuality that exists between the two that makes the Production Code required separate beds really stick out.

The battle of the sexes that occurs within the film is a dynamic one, too, layered and complex and worthy of the viewer's consideration. I'd be curious to see which sides male and female viewers fall on; I found myself empathizing much more readily with Tracy's character than Hepburn's, but I'm curious if that stems from having a male perspective or from something more innately human. If the film can really achieve a divide between male and female viewers as I suspect it might, then it's achieved something profound.

Something that really impresses me about the film is how timeless it actually is, and how, taken in a modern context, it exposes how little sexual equality has really progressed over the past sixty years. The arguments and fights in the film wouldn't seem totally out of place today. Probably just peppered with liberal use of the word "fuck," which I'm willing to admit probably wouldn't serve it well. But Adam's Rib has aged well.

The battle of the sexes is as old as time, but the weapons used to fight it have evolved. Likewise, audience sensibilities have shifted dramatically since the film was produced. But fuck, it's still smart, and it's still funny.

Highly recommended.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.