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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Review: Pat and Mike (1952)

* * * 1/2

Director: George Cukor
Starring: Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

I watched Pat and Mike thinking it would be a romantic comedy with a little bit of sports, but found that it is instead a sports movie with a little bit of romance – and quite a good sports movie, too. Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn star in their usual battle of the sexes story, one that rises above a few predictable plot points on the strength of their amazing chemistry.

Pat Pemberton (Hepburn) is engaged to Collier Weld (William Ching), a University colleague with whom she is accustomed to downplaying her natural athletic ability. After a round of golf with a perspective benefactor, Pat snaps and decides to let everyone know just how good she is. She enters a tournament and comes in second place, in the process catching the eye of sports manager/promoter Mike (Tracy). When she boasts to Mike of her prowess in sports other than golf, he tries her out in various arenas and settles on tennis. Things go well until Pat chokes during an important match and she goes back to golf, where she may have to throw the game due to Mike’s mob connections.

The thing I really liked about this movie is that it’s very much about a woman trying to balance her abilities against what she knows the men around her expect and want of her. Collier, certainly, doesn’t want her to be good at sports and every time she chokes – be it at golf or tennis – it’s because she’s looked over at the audience and seen him watching her. His presence reminds her that there’s a cultural expectation that athleticism is a masculine trait and that women, if they want to be attractive to men, should look good rather than be good. Her competitor in the tennis match is an Anna Kornicova-esque player who seems to concentrate more on posing for the photographers than her game, which she wins only after Pat catches sight of Collier and her mind begins playing tricks on her. Every time she takes a shot the net seems to get higher and higher, her opponent’s racket gets bigger, and her own gets smaller.

Mike picks up on the effect that Collier has on Pat and banishes him, which has as much to do with his effect on Pat’s game as it does with the fact that Mike is starting to fall for her. However, despite the fact that Mike appreciates and celebrates Pat’s abilities, they eventually encounter the same problems as Pat has with Collier. When Mike refuses to let Pat throw the game so that his mob connections can make a buck off of her, they decide to teach him a lesson by roughing him up. Pat comes to his rescue by literally grabbing one of the mobsters (Charles Bronson) by the ankles and upending him, succeeding in saving Mike but also in emasculating him. Now she has to find a way to put the balance back in their relationship.

Pat and Mike is a really great movie that defies expectations in a lot of ways. As a romantic comedy, it isn’t about one person always being right and another always being wrong, but about two people who want to be equals and who celebrate the fact that they are. As a sports movie, it isn’t about whether or not Pat wins the big game, but about whether Pat can overcome her greatest competitor – herself.

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