Spencer Tracy

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Boys Town Review


Good
When I was growing up in Texas, "Boys Town" was another term for a city block, usually south of the border, inhabited solely by prostitutes. The kind of place a dad would take his awkward son to learn the ways of love... not that I know from experience, of course. But everyone had a story about Boys Town, about some distant relative having the time of his life and/or getting mugged there. If not that, then everyone had a joke about it.

So you can imagine that during my formative years, my understanding of what the 1938 film Boys Town was about was pretty far from the mark.

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It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Review


Good
It's also long, long, long... well, you get the picture. Mad, Mad World is the brainchild of director Stanley Kramer, best known for films like Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremburg, who figured he really ought to take a shot at directing a comedy, and what the hell if it's over 3 hours long (his first cut was 5 1/2 hours, actually). Kramer hired every comedian in Hollywood -- counting cameos represents Mad, Mad World's special thrill -- and sent them on a chase across southern California in search of $350,000 that a dying Jimmy Durante alludes to after a car wreck. The ensuing adventures stretch the definition of the word madcap.

Of course, this is what we owe movies like Cannonball Run to. But the original will always reign as the only two-tape comedy on the rental rack. Enjoy.

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Judgment at Nuremberg Review


Excellent
In the grand tradition of courtroom dramas, Judgment at Nuremberg has the distinction of being probably the most "important" of them all -- even if it's not the most blatantly entertaining.

The three-hour film concerns the trial of four Nazi-era German judges accused of killing millions as part of the regime. The trial circumstances are tricky: The four accused didn't pull any triggers, nor were they in the upper echelons of power. They were middlemen, just signing off on the whims of Hitler. How guilty are they of murder? And so it is that American Judge Dan Hawood is flown in to lead a tribunal to determine their fate.

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Inherit the Wind Review


Excellent
Stanley Kramer produced and directed one of the masterworks of the legal drama by bringing to the screen this story of one of the landmark lawsuits of history -- the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial." The names have all been changed (unfortunately so), but that takes only a little away from the proceedings. (Odd note -- the descriptions on the cover of the new DVD release refer to the actors playing the characters by their historical names, not the character names from the movie. We'll follow suit in this review.)

And so, for the historically uninterested, we find ourselves in a small town in 1925 Tennessee, where a highschool teacher named John Scopes (Dick York) has done the unthinkable: He has brought Darwin's theory of evolution into the classroom, casting doubt upon the literal interpretation of the Bible in the process. The state arrests him, and his trial became one of the first "celebrity" lawsuits ever. The prosecution was led by Fundamentalist and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (Fredric March). The defense (hired by the ACLU -- in the movie, by a Boston newspaper) was led by Clarence Darrow (Spencer Tracy), a wild agnostic and verteran lawyer, nearly 70 years old.

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Woman of the Year Review


Excellent
Cute Hepburn-Tracy vehicle, though Spence looks about 20 years older than Katharine in this rendition, which has his crass sports reporter wooing her society maven and astute political columnist. Opposites attract, and before you know it the two are married. But once she is named "woman of the year," our poor sap hero finds himself neglected and put out that he never gets to see his wife. This is the first of many Tracy & Hepburn movies, and the chemistry's not quite there yet in this one. Some impressively funny scenes and a hilarious ending redeem the long stretches of predictability.

Libeled Lady Review


Excellent
How big of a star was Jean Harlow? In 1936 she got top billing here, despite -- by far -- having less screen time than her three big-name co-stars.

As a matter of fact, Harlow is the least interesting part of Libeled Lady (she's neither the libeler nor the lady in question), but that doesn't make it a fun little movie. The story is a little tricky, so try to keep up: Socialite Connie Allenbury (Myrna Low) is the subject of Warren's (Spencer Tracy) gossipmongering in newsprint. He says she's a homewrecker, but she disagrees and sues. Warren's busted for making stuff up, but he devises a way out: He'll have friend Bill (William Powell) impersonate The Perfect Guy and get in good with her father, eventually proving that Connie is a homewrecker after all. Oh, but Bill's not married. Warren solves that by having his own girlfriend Gladys (Harlow) marry Bill for the sake of convenience.

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Desk Set Review


OK
She's a crack researcher at a publishing firm. He's a computer expert (well, a 1957 computer expert) that's tasked with implementing a system in her department. Together they're Hepburn and Tracy in what would be their second-to-last film together (the final movie being Guess Who's Coming to Dinner 10 years later). Desk Set is quaintly funny and has a few memorable moments -- namely since modern audiences will chuckle over the enormous "electronic brain" installed in the office, a computer that can do more than today's machines are able to do. The typical screwball comedy banter is less fun here than in many contemporaries -- and especially than in many of the duo's prior outings -- but it's ultimately harmless fun with a gossamer message about technology and gender roles.

Fury Review


Extraordinary
One of the greats of its era, Fritz Lang's Fury is a bitter indictment of mob politics, with the inimitable Spencer Tracy in the role of an innocent man swept up in by lynch mob for a crime he didn't commit. Horrifying and extremely well-made, Fury belies its age with insight into the human psyche that is more relevant today than ever. Lang, as a refugee to America from Naxi Germany, knew what he was talking about. This is one to savor for the ages.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Review


Good
By now everyone knows who's coming to dinner... it's a 37-year-old Sidney Poitier (and his parents), on the arm of a very white 23-year-old girl (Katherine Houghton) who returns home with him to introduce her to the 'rents. Oh, and they're getting married.

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Spencer Tracy

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