Pat and Mike May 27, 2015
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy spent most of their screen partnerships intwined in battles of the sexes. Subversively, Pat and Mike finds them at their most harmonious, headlining a romantic comedy without highbrow bite or indirect sexism. While thinly plotted, the film is one of their breeziest pairings, in part due to George Cukor’s smartly scattered comedic zest and the screenplay’s knack for juxtaposing comedic uptown-downtown disparities.
Hepburn portrays Pat Pemberton, a physical ed instructor who spends her afternoons training athletic collegians. Her days of competing are far from over, though; as the film opens, she is basking in the final few moments before an important golf match. Pat is a dynamic athlete, but she has a minor problem when it comes to performing. Whenever her fiancee, the pompous Collier (William Ching), appears for support, her skills take a downturn, as if he were a bad luck charm. Collier wants Pat to retire from her sports career so she can become a full-time wife, but Pat, independent and smart, knows deep in her heart that she doesn’t want to marry him and doesn’t want to waste her days cleaning and cooking and kid raising. She has more important things to do than fill general women’s roles.
After a particularly rough match, thanks to the presence of the smarmy Collier, Pat is down in the dumps, but her athletic prowess is noticed by Mike Conovan (Spencer Tracy), a sports promoter who normally supports boxing acts. Right then and there, he deems her the world’s top female athlete. But with her tendency to screw up at the worst of times, Mike becomes determined to train Pat until she becomes a wunderkind with the ability to smash cultural norms and sports records. As the two begin to see each other more frequently, however, it seems that mutual attraction is steadily growing, and traffic cones like Mike’s other subject, a bird-brained boxer (Aldo Ray), prejudiced mobsters, and a smug Collier, will hardly stand in their way.
I suppose Pat and Mike works so well because there isn’t a moment in its 95 minutes where its stars are hating each other. In the sexist Woman of the Year, the entire middle half was spent with Hepburn and Tracy hardly attempting to overcome marital woes; in the witty Adam’s Rib, combative battles of words came more regularly than moments of adoration. Pat and Mike is a rather slight, simplistic romantic comedy, but because it is so much without conflict, it spends more time being likable than it does messing with our heads. It’s a nice change of pace for its stars.
Hepburn trades hardness for an affectionate, slacks-not-pants-wearing performance (boasting her athletic skill along the way), and Tracy’s teddy bear, Chicawgo affability is impossible to resist. Supporting performer Ray nearly steals the film as Mike’s other client, Davie. A gentle giant of a dope who probably spends his days laughing at The Three Stooges while swigging beers, his nights bruising his little brains, Ray is a lovable and goofy supplement to his lively co-stars.
With writing team Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon’s ear for the distinction between city dwellers and the intellectual middle class, Pat and Mike is unsubstantial but towering in its charisma. It’s a joy from start to finish, a comedic showcase for Hepburn and