Onscreen chemistry is hard to manufacture, which is why you find certain pairings (actor-actor, actor-director etc.) repeated multiple times. This appeared to be far more prevalent in Hollywood’s Golden Age with the Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn films being some of the most famous. Adam’s Rib is the sixth of the nine films that they made together and arguably the most acclaimed.
Knowing how Hepburn and Tracey were already an item at the time of filming Adam’s Rib and the script was especially written with them in mind, it is hard to not see to see a lot of their interactions in this film as a window into their private lives. It might be me projecting my own ideas here, but the tenderness and the joy in a lot of their scenes seems utterly genuine. Also helps that these two were among the best actors of their generation.
In Adam’s Rib we see Hepburn and Tracey take on the roles of Amanda and Adam Bonner – a pair of happily married lawyers who end up going toe-to-toe in court. The case? A woman who shot and injured her husband because of his infidelity. With Amanda on the defense team and Adam as the prosecutor Adam’s Rib becomes a classic ‘battle of the sexes’ film with the crux of the defense’s arguments being around gender equality.
As a film Adam’s Rib is an interesting look at gender dynamics in the 1940s with the central couple being depicted as incredibly equal. However, the views of the time about the places of men and women are still prevalent – which keeps ramping up the tension between this once secure couple until they reach breaking point.
Could this film be made nowadays? I’m not entirely sure. Equality between the sexes isn’t there yet, but it’s so much closer than it was back in 1949. An important thing to do when watching Adam’s Rib is to remember that historical context. Both Adam and Amanda are at fault for their marriage splitting up, but as for who is more at fault… well that’s a debate worth having when you’ve seen the film.