Adam's Rib (1949)

Adam's Rib
Spencer Tracy, Judy Holliday and Katharine Hepburn

'Adam's Rib' is a romantic comedy made in 1949, directed by George Cukor and starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Judy Holliday. It is generally regarded as a classic and has been an inspiration for countless other films and television series about combative but sexually combustible couples.

Of the nine movies legendary partners Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made together between 1942 and 1967, 'Adam's Rib' is the sixth and arguably the best. The beautifully crafted script still crackles with witty dialogue, spirited discussion of double standards and sexual stereotypes, and all the actors give wonderful performances.

The screenplay, which was nominated for an Academy Award, was written by Tracy and Hepburn's great pals, the married team of Ruth Gordon (the actress who won an Oscar in Rosemary's Baby) and Garson Kanin.

The movie is ranked at number 7 in the American Film Institute's list of Top Romantic Comedies and in 1992, it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.


When sweet, dizzy blonde Doris Attinger-played by the sensationally funny Judy Holliday, making her debut in the role that launched her meteoric career, is charged with the attempted murder of her two-timing husband Warren (Tom Ewell), proto-feminist attorney Amanda 'Pinkie' Bonner (Hepburn) agrees to defend her. But Amanda's husband, Adam 'Pinky' Bonner (Tracy), is the prosecuting attorney, and their courtroom battle quickly extends into the bedroom, hostilities aggravated by the attentions shown Amanda by smitten songwriter Kip (David Wayne), who composes 'Farewell, Amanda' in her honor (a song written by Cole Porter).

Director George Cukor, recognizing the inherent theatricality of courtroom situations, deliberately keeps the proceedings stagy after the comedy-suspense opening sequence of Doris tailing Warren from work to the tryst with his floozy mistress, Beryl (Jean Hagen), and the inept shooting. The film's long single takes give Hepburn free rein for her outrageously crafty showboating in court and allow Tracy to work up his indignation at her tactics and principles. Highlights include brainy Amanda's early questioning of dim witted Doris, and the spectacle of Adam tearfully getting in touch with his feminine side to get back into his wife's good graces. Although some of the arguments may seem quaint today, but the sophistication is undiminished. It is a wonderful movie, directed with a light touch by George Cukor and with top class performers at their very best. Great entertainment.


The film was written specifically for Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, a married couple who were friends of Tracy and Hepburn. The true story that sparked the project was that of husband-and-wife lawyers William and Dorothy Whitney, who represented Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Massey in their divorce, then divorced each other and married their respective clients. It doesn't quite come to that in Adam's Rib'.

Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon were paid $175,000 by MGM for the rights to their original screenplay.

The original titles considered for the movie were 'Love Is Legal' and 'Man and Wife', both dropped in favor of the pithy 'Adam's Rib'.

The movie was mainly filmed on location in New York City, which allowed Katharine Hepburn the luxury of staying in her own New York apartment. Spencer Tracy booked an hotel suite which allowed them to maintain their usual "just good friends" image and avoided scandal in the media.

The writers never seriously considered considered anyone other than Tracy and Hepburn for the leads, even referring to them as Spence and Kate whilst writing. Both Tracy and Hepburn were in the midst of a career downturn in the late 1940's, a situation the movie quickly changed.

The plum comic role of Doris Attinger was at first turned down by Judy Holliday as she is referred to as "fatso" in the script. Her brilliant comic performance helped to persuade Harry Cohn, president of Columbia Pictures, to cast her in the lead role in 'Born Yesterday' in 1950, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar.

Main Cast

Katharine Hepburn ... Amanda Bonner
Spencer Tracy ... Adam Bonner
Judy Holliday ... Doris Attinger
David Wayne ... Kip Lurie
Tom Ewell ... Warren Francis Attinger
Jean Hagen ... Beryl Caighn
Eve March ... Grace
Hope Emerson ... Olympia La Pere
Clarence Kolb ... Judge Reiser
Will Wright ... Judge Marc....son
Polly Moran ... Mrs. McGrath
Madge Blake ... Mrs. Bonner, Adam's Mother


Director ... George Cukor
Producer ... Lawrence Weingarten
Written by Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin
Music ... Miklós Rózsa, Cole Porter
Cinematography ... George J. Folsey
Editor ... George Boemler
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date ... November 18, 1949
Running time ... 101 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
1 Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Screenplay ... Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin