From the Vault Review: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

By Quentin Basnaw

Old movies, am I right? They have this certain charm to them. The bright lighting, matte painting backgrounds, and simple camera set-ups all stick out like a sore thumb nowadays. Oh and the cars driving on the screen in the background… they’re lovely. Looking past all of these “high production values,” the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a lovely little gem I believe everyone should watch. Not because it is the best movie ever created, but it is… interesting, to say the least. It serves up plenty of laughs, fantastic acting, and continuous social commentary.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was directed by Stanley Kramer, released in 1967, and was well received during its time. The film is centered on a couple that has recently met and plan on marrying. Through a bunch of shenanigans, both of the couple’s respective parents end up getting roped into having dinner together. The main cause for drama: the couple consists of a younger white woman and a older black man. In 1967. When it was illegal to have interracial marriages in seventeen states. The story that ensues juggles comedy and drama quite well. I think the dramatic aspects of the film outshine the comedic aspects, but more on that later.

The main draw of this film, for me, was the stellar cast. The black lead is portrayed by Sidney Poitier (A Raisin in the Sun), who is earnest, humble, and strong willed. His girlfriend is portrayed by Katharine Houghton. Her parents are the true stars of the show, portrayed by acting legends Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Katharine Hepburn won an Academy Award for her performance in this film, and it’s understandable as to why she received this award when compared to her co-stars.

Overall, this is a wonderful movie, and I find it wonderful for different reasons than the traditional ones associated with it. This movie has loud, in-your-face social commentary, but also has a few quieter moments that I appreciated. The commentary comes in the form of characters talking about the issues of an interracial marriage and how they should deal with it. It is done tastefully and heartfully and, since it’s an older movie, there is a certain innocence emanating from these moments. However, they are definitely a little odd to sit through because, nowadays, interracial marriage isn’t the “end of the world” situation it used to be to some people.

In my opinion, the quieter moments are what make this movie. These moments are deftly revealed through the characters at proper moments. The one example I can give away without divulging huge plot spoilers is when a priest talks to the father of the girl with the black fiancé. The priest talks to the father, a newspaper editor, about how the father has been a crusading liberal for years, and has no issues with African Americans usually. The father refuses to believe what the priest throws at him, yet he brings up a wonderful point: the father may say all these progressive things, but when he is in a situation deemed “not socially acceptable,” he runs away from it. He doesn’t embrace it. I find this to be completely relevant to any socially progressive movement. In moments like these, a person’s integrity is tested. The father is put through many tests like this throughout the movie, and Spencer Tracy’s acting sells every moment of crisis.

In summary, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner has something for everyone. The sets, lighting, and overall feel of the movie are definitely dated, but its message, its acting, and the overall charm of the time period add a glimmer of hope to it, even when surrounded by darkness and intolerance. The movie is hard to find but, luckily for us Ball State students, it is currently at Bracken Library. Pick it up! Watch it with a friend, significant other, it doesn’t matter where or with whom! Make sure you see this movie at some point. You will not regret it.

Rating: 3.5/5