Adam's Rib (1949)




"Adam's Rib" cannot escape gender. Even the title refers to the female form while relying on the Biblical tale of woman coming from man's side. Man and woman. Woman and man. They should be equals. It's amazing that we still have problems with gender equality even after all these years. "Adam's Rib" is about the battle of the sexes, it's about a married couple, and it's about sexism. The point of the film is hard to not like—it never once makes woman seem better than man or vice versa; but it's problem lies with how it carries this out. A wickedly clever script has our main couple being so ruthless in their opinions and so close-mindedly arrogant that it's hard to pick sides (you're not supposed to pick sides, just so you know). What actually unfolds is a horribly easy to hate sentimental piece of the lowest caliber that leaves such a sour taste in your mouth you'll need two glasses of water to wash it out.
Don't get me wrong, I love me some Katherine Hepburn (though I'd argue that her more powerful performances were found in her later career). I think she and Spencer Tracy (who plays her husband) are a sensational onscreen couple. They give tremendous performances.
I really, really wanted to like this movie. At the script is Ruth Gordon (who would later become an actress and win an Oscar for her role in "Rosemary's Baby") who gained recognition for the razor sharp dialogue she, and co-writer Garson Kanin wrote into their piece.
For trying so hard to be so light and fluffy, "Adam's Rib" is a very dark story. It begins with an attempted murder. A woman follows her husband home from work to find him going to a love nest and cozying up to some broad. The wife will not accept this so she pulls a gun from her purse, closes her eyes tight, and fires away until all the bullets are gone. One bullet hits her husband, but he survives the ordeal and it becomes big headlines the next day.
Enter a couple of lawyers, in every sense of the word 'couple'.  Adam and Amanda Bonner (that's Bahner) are two lawyers who don't always see eye-to-eye, and they're married. When Amanda hears of the case, she launches into a tirade about sexism. If a man had committed the attempted murder, he would be seen as trying to do the right thing, trying to restore order to his family because a mother shouldn't run around with other men. In this case, however, it was a woman and so people shake their heads at her because she can't know the pressures of having a job and dealing with "important" issues. This is Amanda's view anyway. Adam just lets her vent, while reminding her that it's not okay for anyone to break the law.
Adam's luck just ran out...he gets assigned to the case as a prosecutor and he knows the trouble that it will bring him; but he could never tell just how much trouble that will be. Outraged at the news of her husband catering to the whims of a male-driven society (though, he really didn't have a choice and tried to get the case taken away from him) Amanda goes out and appoints herself as the representative for the woman scorned ( "Hell hath no fury..." ironically makes its own appearance in the film).
The two battle it out in court, for justice, and for their own kicks.
More so than anything, "Adam's Rib" plays out like a character piece and a mockery of the judicial system. It's almost as scathing as a work like "The Thin Blue Line", though I don't think that it meant to be. The characters are finely tuned and very human; but I hated both of them. No real resolution appears in a film that demands it. It's a film that's very nature is about the gratification (or lack thereof) of an impulsive decision; yet the end result of the film is a circular and decidedly platonic view on marriage that makes the viewer cringe with its odd commentary.
The script is remarkable for never picking a side...but that's all it's good for.
Determined to make the case about equality, Amanda brings a vaudeville act into the courtrooms (both literally and figuratively). She parades up and down and pulls the heartstrings of the jury, while Adam, less attractive and less eloquent is left scratching his head.
In the end, I know what I think about the case that they are trying; but that's the only item the movie left me thinking about.
Also included in "Adam's Rib" is a mocking friend, an odd result, and the same-ol', same-ol' tap dance show that we have of the legal system in films. Way ahead of its time for the up-front-ness of its gender difference and similarities, "Adam's Rib" is a movie that doesn't really seem relevant anymore. True, we still fight for equality; but we don't need some over-cutesy puff nonsense to remind us of this.
If we're going by honesty, I hated the characters in the movie with a passion that doesn't die. The snide remarks, the arguments that boil up into shouting matches, the point of the film itself...it all adds up to dissatisfaction.
In the end, nothing has changed and we know that Adam and Amanda will slip back into the quarrelsome ways, alluding to a sex scene and making a quick genitalia reference does not fix the problem the movie leaves the viewer with.








Score: ★★

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