Alphabetical Movie – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
I would imagine it is obvious by now that my movie blogs are frequently not at all about the movies in question but rather my thoughts that are triggered by the film. That is especially true with films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner that have been written about endlessly for many good reasons.
You know what I think about when I watch the movie? The fact that it was Spencer Tracy’s last movie. I watch Tracy in this film and actually find myself observing his performance and seeing if I can tell that this was a dying man. Seventeen days after they finished shooting the film, he was dead. Does it show?
Then I start thinking about the fact that I know he was dying alters my impression of what I’m watching. Because I have knowledge, I look at a scene that he spends sitting on a chair and say “oh, look, they have him sitting in that chair because he was too weak to stand.” So yes, given that I’m looking for evidence of something, I find it easily.
What if I didn’t know? Would I find myself thinking his performance was “off” without knowing why?
I’ve seen a lot of Spencer Tracy movies. In the rest of them, he wasn’t dying. His performance in this film seems pretty similar to the others. He’s walking a little more like an old man but he was an old man so I don’t think that is really evidence of terminal illness.
What is needed, I think, is some sort of scientific experiment. We need to get two groups of people – one group that knows he was dying and another group that doesn’t – and really explore this question. Will the people who don’t know detect that something is “off” about his performance? Will they even know who Spencer Tracy is?
Maybe we can expand the whole experiment. We can have a “control” movie where none of the actors were terminally ill. We can have people watch both movies and then ask them which actor was dying in each movie.
Assuming we are dealing with the same people who keep going to Transformers films, I imagine we could show them Return of the King and they would say that Elijah Wood is clearly dying because man, by the time he gets to the volcano, he is looking pretty damn awful. I mean heck, Sean Astin had to carry him for a while.
I don’t know if we’d learn much with such an experiment, though. About the only thing it would teach us is that people are pretty dumb. We already knew that.
It’d be a fun experiment to do, though. You’d have ’em watch Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and ask them how they liked the film.
“Oh!” they might say, “I really enjoyed it. It has such a positive uplifting message about love!”
“Did you know one of the main performers was terminally ill and died seventeen days after the filming was completed?”
Their face drops and they say “No! I didn’t know that. How sad!!!”
As an unbiased researcher, you suppress a snicker over having so quickly altered their mood and continue to ask questions…
I think the point that I’m trying to make by this rather lengthy digression is this: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a fine film but it seems I may have watched it one too many times recently.