Woman of the Year Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
The New York Chronicle publishes several columns and beats. Spread over several floors of a Manhattan building, the reporters tend to stick with their own kind. If there were two people that had zero business running into each other, it’s Tess Harding and Sam Craig.
Tess (Katharine Hepburn, who earned her fourth of 12 career Academy Award nominations) is an intelligent political reporter who has met with Churchill and FDR and sought to put Hitler in his place in her articles. Sam (Spencer Tracy, one year after playing the title roles in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE) is a sportswriter whose insights don’t go much farther than the Yankees’ season. Their personalities meet over print when Tess expresses disdain for baseball.
After being forced to make up by their editor to settle their feud, Sam offers to take her out…to a baseball game, occupying the press box. By the ninth, Tess gets the hang of the game (except for extra innings) and invites her to his place…for a dinner party, occupied by foreigners. There is a clear distinction in class and general interests–all the more reason for the two to develop a romance, at least according to the rules of Hollywood rom-coms.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR is the first pairing of Tracy and Hepburn, laying the groundwork for classics like 1949’s ADAM’S RIB, 1957’s DESK SET and more. And the minute Sam takes Tess into the press box (a controversy bigger than the 1919 World Series, notes one reporter), we know there is something special onscreen.
Screenwriters Ring Lardner, Jr. and Michael Kanin, who shared the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for their work (Lardner, Jr. would win again for 1970’s M*A*SH; Kanin would be nominated again for 1958’s TEACHER’S PET.), write Sam and Tess as representations of what it means not just to work with the opposite sex, but to live with them. The priorities of each are set out, and Lardner, Jr. and Kanin seem to want to challenge the audience in whose side they will take. Both are interesting characters with clear needs and desires, but viewers are aware as the film progresses just how important compromise and understanding are. (Some discussion has been made of the film’s final moments, in which Tess stands not up for herself and gender, but rather in the kitchen to see her husband gets breakfast. Is this a compromise for her love of Sam, or a slap in the face to female empowerment–in other words, what, other than potential censors, is stopping Tess from telling Sam, “To hell with this–make your own damn eggs!”)
Directed by George Stevens (helming his only Tracy/Hepburn film, though he had worked with the latter twice before), WOMAN OF THE YEAR is a well-done picture, keenly aware and expertly handled in nearly every scene. As such, it proves key in molding what signaled one of the finest screen pairs ever.
Video: 1.37:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from a 35 mm fine-grain master positive made from the 35 mm original camera negative.”
WOMAN OF THE YEAR looks wonderful in this 2K transfer, showing excellent details and offering strong contrast. While the picture does occasionally suggest the film’s age (it’s now 75 years old), fans will be pleased at how much has been cleaned up and that a nice layer of grain is intact.
Audio: English Mono. “The 35 mm original soundtrack negative was transferred using the Chace Optical Sound Processor. The monaural soundtrack was then remastered; clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”
There are no notable issues with the audio, with overall clean dialogue and music (by Franz Waxman).
George Stevens Jr. (6:13): In this new interview, the director’s son discusses his father’s approach to cinema.
George Stevens (16:54): In this 1967 audio excerpt, Stevens reflects on filming WOMAN OF THE YEAR and working with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
Marilyn Ann Moss (14:23): Stevens biographer Moss touches on the director’s career before and during WOMAN OF THE YEAR.
Katharine Hepburn: Woman of the Century (20:08): Author and journalist Claudia Roth Pierpont provides insight into the career of Hepburn as both an actress and feminist role model.
George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey (1:51:30): This 1984 documentary (directed by Stevens Jr.) offers a thorough account of the life and career of George Stevens, who died less than a decade before its release. This is an extensive account that fans of the Hollywood legend must watch.
The Spencer Tracy Legacy (1:26:34): Narrated by Hepburn, this 1986 documentary pays loving tribute to the late actor.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek.