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Monday, 23 April 2007

Pat and Mike (1952) George Cukor

Co-written by noted screenwriter Garson Kanin and actress Ruth Gordon, of all people, who were Oscar nominated for their troubles, this is another Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn comedy and while they're not all as great as they're made out, I don't think there's a bad one in the bunch and I've worked through most of them now. Kate is the Pat of the title, Mrs Patricia Pemberton, and she's a golfer.

She starts out deliberately losing because her boyfriend Collier Weld is trying to impress a potential investor. Of course she soon loses her temper too because Collier Weld is exactly the sort of male chauvinist pig that you'd wish Kate Hepburn on. Soon Charles Barry, played by Jim Backus in a small part, gets her interested in the Women's National Matchplay Tournament, so suddenly Collier Weld disappears from the scene and dubious promoter Mike Conovan appears. He's the Mike of the title and no points for guessing that it's Spencer Tracy.

The tournament goes exactly as you'd expect, but women's golf fans, amidst which number I can't count myself, ought to be enthused that Kate is up against the greats of the day, literally playing themselves, finishing off against Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who was so great I've actually heard of her. She's winning all the way through until Collier Weld turns back up and she goes to pieces, heading from bunker to bunker to trees to loss. It looks like Hepburn played at least a good proportion of her shots herself, which is impressive even to someone who doesn't know much about it like me.

What's more impressive is when she goes back to Mike Conovan and it comes out in conversation that she's only been playing golf for a year or so and she really plays tennis. And shoots, and boxes and anything else that he has to deal with as a promoter except race horses. Watching Spencer Tracy's face listening to all this is as much fun as it gets. Tracy is wonderful here, as he always was, especially when playing opposite Katharine Hepburn.

As for Kate, she's fine but it's excruciating to watch her squirm every time Collier is around. Actor William Ching's face is the most magnetic thing in this film, just because I wanted Kate to belt him one every single time he opened his mouth. Every line, every single line he has, invites a cringe because he's digging the biggest hole ever dug. That's what this film is really about, not the inevitable love story and certainly not the embarrassing subplot about Aldo Ray as a moron boxer. It's about what not to say to Kate.

You won't just see half the female athletes of the time, but also Mae Clarke, from The Public Enemy and Frankenstein, as a golfer. Watch carefully towards the end and you'll see Alfalfa from the Our Gang comedies, The Rifleman Chuck Connors and even a small looking Charles Bronson, here as Charles Buchinski in only his seventh film. Amazingly enough Kate Hepburn gets to beat him up. Twice. Very cool.

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