Title: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Release Date: December 12, 1967
Director: Stanley Kramer
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
1967 was a huge year for Sidney Poitier with To Sir, With Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner making him the top grossing leading man of the year. Whether Hollywood needed a Black man teaching rebellious students in London’s East End, a Black man solving crimes in a racist Southern town, or a Black man meeting his white betrothed’s liberal parents for the first time, Sidney Poitier was your man. The latter two films also did well at the Academy Awards, although Poitier was criminally not nominated for Best Actor for any of them.
Reviewing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 2020 comes down to two questions: is it a good movie and was it a good movie for its time? The latter question is easy to answer in the affirmative. It’s often noted that something like a Hollywood film can move the needle on a social issue by using a light touch. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner follows that prescription to a T with a cast of likable and good-looking actors coming together and having some disagreements, but nothing that can’t be worked out before dinner. I think all the actors perform well in this movie even if sometimes I can’t believe the words coming out of their mouths. As an aside, I love that Katharine Houghton has a mid-Atlantic accent just like her fictional mother and real-life aunt Katharine Hepburn. I also like Cecil Kellaway as the random Irish priest who gets tipsy and says things without a filter.
But is the movie good? It’s definitely entertaining, but veers towards the schmaltzy (my goodness, the music!). The fact that John and Joanna are getting married after only knowing one another for ten days seems to me more a cause for concern about the future of their marriage than their mixed race. I’m really curious why it was written to have them rushing into marriage instead of having known one another for some time, since every other effort was made to make them “perfect.” I also think it was kind of dickish for John to make an ultimatum to Drayton’s without even talking to Joanna about it. But the thing that bother’s me most is the inadvertent casual racism in things such as Matt (Spencer Tracy) being able to make the warm, fuzzy reconciliation speech while throwing Mr. Prentice (Roy E. Glenn, Sr.) under the bus.
Ultimately, this is a movie that is best watched as a reflection of its times while enjoying the performances of a talented group of actors.