Another 1949 movie with “Adam” in the title! This one is about people on the other side of the law, though. And unlike Adam and Evelyne, Adam’s Rib is all about raising questions, even if it doesn’t have all the answers, which is enough for me. Maybe it lost sight of the big picture in a few parts, but it always came back around. Between the witty banter physical gags, there’s real meat to this story, which is a rare and wonderful thing in a comedy.
Adam’s Rib stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as Adam and Amanda Bonner, two lawyers who are madly in love and happily married… that is, until Assistant District Attorney Adam is assigned a case that Amanda has taken an active interest in – and she steps in to serve as the defense to his prosecution. The case concerns one Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday, who is as lovely and delightful as ever), a physically and emotionally abused housewife who followed her husband (Tom Ewell) to his mistress’ apartment and shot – but did not kill – him. While Adam advocates the view that the law should be strictly upheld, Amanda approaches the case intent on shaking up the system and promoting women’s rights, defending the woman who was driven to her wit’s end by an oppressive husband. As the trial wears on, the tension between the Bonners grows and grows until they finally reach the breaking point. But can their relationship be mended after it’s all said and done?
Perhaps my biggest grief with the movie is the fact that the entire plot is dependent on the heroine’s misguided efforts. Not that Holliday’s character isn’t sympathetic or that women’s rights aren’t important because she is and oh, they are, but it’s very clear that this case – where the defendant’s actions were premeditated and not self defense – is not the right platform for Amanda’s cause. Man or woman, the consequence for her actions should be the same. Ironically, that is Amanda’s case – that Mrs. Attinger should be tried on the same level as a man – but at the same time, she also uses it to try and excuse the defendant’s behavior. It’s a glaringly erroneous defense, and I fault the writers for making her blind to it. But without that, there’s no story.
Now, the hero isn’t spotless, either, and in his desperation to make Amanda understand that Mrs. Attinger was wrong, woman or not, I feel that he went too far. In the end, of course, everything is resolved, and we’re left with Hepburn and Tracy being funny and charming again. And oh, how very charming they are in this film! Wise-cracks, flirty remarks, and zingers fly fast and furious, and whatever oversight might be present where character is concerned, you can never accuse Adam’s Rib of being boring. Quite the opposite in fact: it’s fast-paced and funny, and viewed only as a simple comedy, it’s delightful. But you know what else is delightful? That if you want to watch with your brain on, you’ll find plenty to occupy yourself between laughs.