Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Pat and Mike (1952) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

PAT AND MIKE (1952), starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, was released last week on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

PAT AND MIKE was the seventh of Tracy and Hepburn's nine films together. Another of their films, WITHOUT LOVE (1945), was also just released by the Warner Archive and reviewed here a few days ago.

In PAT AND MIKE Hepburn plays Pat Pemberton, a widow who teaches physical education at "Pacific Technical College" in California. (The scenes were shot at Occidental College.) Pat has a "beau" named Collier (William Ching) who works at the university, but her life is stagnating, and that's compounded by her boyfriend's subtle put-downs and refusal to take her seriously. The fact that he makes her so nervous that she constantly blows golf shots when he looks at her is a hint that all might not be well with the relationship, though she initially chalks the nervousness up to love.

In a moment of throwing caution to the winds -- or should I say luggage off the train -- Pat decides to put the romantic relationship on hold, leave the university, and enter the amateur golf circuit. She's spotted by (somewhat shady) promoter Mike Conovan (Tracy), who's intrigued by her talent, and his mind is blown when he also learns she's an outstanding tennis player and shooter. With Mike's guidance Pat turns pro.

As Pat's athletic career develops, there's a definite sizzle that develops between Pat and Mike along with their friendship and business arrangement...and Pat's reunions with Collier seem to underscore that they're really not well matched.

I probably saw PAT AND MIKE more than any of Hepburn and Tracy's films on TV when I was growing up. I hadn't seen it in years, partly because I saw it so many times years ago and partly because a little of Tracy and Hepburn tends to go a long way with me these days.

I was thus coming to the movie with fresh eyes...and you know what? It's a really good movie. Possibly even their best teaming. I guess I need to revisit ADAM'S RIB (1949) and DESK SET (1956), the other competitors for the top spot, to evaluate that. I love parts of WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942) tremendously but other sections are rather painful to watch (and I'm not talking about the final cooking scene, which has always made me laugh).

Their characters in PAT AND MIKE are richly delineated and unique, especially Hepburn's Pat, who feels very real and authentic. Perhaps part of that is the fact that Hepburn was able to put her natural athletic prowess to use in the film, but beyond that Hepburn simply nails a woman trying to figure herself out before it's too late.

Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin's script could have done more to clue us in on more of Pat's back story -- her husband's death, her career -- but what's on screen is still substantial enough to work well. And I love what we learn from little character touches like the constant hair ribbons and bows Pat wears, hinting at the femininity which is as much a part of her as her tough athleticism.

Tracy's rough-hewn Mike is a more showy performance, but he gets away with the character because the interactions with Pat are so good. (I've never understood the point of view that Tracy is understated and "natural" -- as I wrote half a decade ago, "For a 'natural' actor he can be as guilty of mannered or obvious performances as anyone.") He has some nice quiet moments as he carefully watches Pat play and realizes how her fiance affects her.

One could say that Pat trades in one controlling man for another, as Mike dictates her diet, sleep habits, and more, but Pat and Mike develop an ease and understanding together that seems to be missing from her relationship with Collier. Pat should ostensibly have more in common with Collier, who was from her university world, but the "opposites attract" relationship with Mike works much better, and Mike has an understanding of what makes people tick which Collier is lacking. One might wonder how a college instructor and a "tough guy" promoter will work long term, but to that point Pat has revealed such an accepting openness to new experiences and people that it seems entirely plausible they can make it work.

Ching does well with a fairly thankless role as the man who is oblivious to Pat's needs and worries. Before he and Pat golf with a wealthy couple he's courting for a business deal, he's entirely consumed with his own situation. He's not a bad person, but he's just somewhat self-absorbed, not understanding what makes Pat tick or seeing her as a fully rounded human being. It seems that perhaps their relationship was more a case of propinquity and "settling" than true attraction.

I think the adult examination of relationships and personal growth is something I couldn't fully appreciate when seeing the movie as a kid, but I was really struck by that aspect now...and then of course, for fun we've got scenes mixed in like Pat single-handedly (and successfully!) physically taking down a couple of mobster types, to Mike's embarrassment.

Aldo Ray is amusing as one of Mike's other clients, a childlike boxer, although in truth he's really rather extraneous to the plot and probably could have been carefully trimmed out; I do like how nice he is to Pat, and they're cute together. The movie is filled with nice turns such as the young Charles Bronson as a hood doing business with Mike; Chuck Connors as a sheriff; and Jim Backus as the golf shop pro who convinces Pat to enter a tournament.

A number of real athletes are in the film, including Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Gussie Moran.

PAT AND MIKE was directed by George Cukor. It was filmed in black and white by William Daniels. The score was by David Raksin. The film runs a well-paced 95 minutes.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray includes two trailers. The print is nice and sharp, with excellent sound.


Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Margot Shelby said...

"a little of Tracy and Hepburn tends to go a long way with me these days."
Not only these days. :) If I had to name two classic actors who never did anything for me, it would be Tracy and Hepburn. Tracy I can tolerate more, but in general when Hepburn comes on the screen, I run. I always mention Hepburn in my "unpopular opinions about classic movies and actors".
I find the reverence for Hepburn simply bewildering.
OK, rant over.

8:08 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Pat and Mike marks, for me, Hepburn's most sensual on-screen pairing, perhaps even more than her appearance in The Philadelphia Story. For an actress capable of shutting down the sex appeal, she knows how to turn it on as well. There are two things that work against her, neither are her great legs, but in the thirties, she is often overly mannered, or heavily stylized, and over time, as there is so much of it, (after all, she is the most successful screen star in history, based on 4 Academy Awards and fifty, nearer sixty-plus years in the movies) it is easy to throw her considerable body of work away.

On a quasi-personal note, something I mentioned on Margot's blog some time ago, my father sold her lumber, 1965 or so, and thought she was adorable.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Margot! I used to feel somewhat alone in realizing I wasn't a big fan of Tracy and more often not watch movies despite him rather than because of him. You and others have let me know I'm not "the only one" which I appreciate.

That said, I really like him in SAN FRANCISCO, and LIBELED LADY is one of my favorite comedies. And I do like him in PAT AND MIKE, though it's a very "scripted" character opposite Hepburn's much more natural persona in the film. I guess it's on a case-by-case basis for me.

Hepburn's LITTLE WOMEN, from early in her career, is one of my all-time favorite films, and I think she's perfectly cast. Other Hepburn films haven't worn so well, for instance in recent years I've come to feel she and Cary Grant play incredibly immature and annoying characters in HOLIDAY, which wasn't how I felt seeing it years ago and is a rather contrarian POV LOL. I don't dislike her, but my feelings about her have shifted over the decades and I now prefer to take her in small doses.

All that said, it was really interesting I so thoroughly enjoyed PAT AND MIKE and admired her performance! It also made me more interested in revisiting or checking out some of her movies, wondering if I need to be more open to her. I'd be curious in your opinion on PAT AND MIKE.

Best wishes,

9:39 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Barrylane!

Very interested in your take on Hepburn in this, it's true regarding the sensual performance. Also a good description of the mannered and stylized performances becoming tiring over time -- so I was a bit surprised to find her work in PAT AND MIKE being so fresh and pleasantly "dialed down." She's very appealing in it.

What a great story about your father!!

Best wishes,

9:39 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older