Blu-ray Review: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Director-producer Stanley Kramer's iconic Guess Who's Coming to Dinner arrives on Blu-ray via Twilight Time. It's difficult to say anything that hasn't been said (multiple times over) about this acknowledged classic. It's an entertaining film that explores some still-relevant issues, though at times it lapses into what feels like a big-budget public service announcement. The extraordinary performances by Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy (who would not live to see the film's release), and Katharine Houghton help make it a must-see. Twilight Time has issued 3,000 copies as part of their Limited Edition series, so act now if you want to add this to your classic film collection.

To briefly summarize, the film unfolds over the course of one evening. A newly-engaged couple, Dr. John Prentice (Poitier) and Joanna Drayton (Houghton), are going to have dinner with Joanna's parents. The year is 1967; the fact that Dr. Prentice is black and Joanna is white is a pretty big deal. Mr. and Mrs. Drayton (Tracy and Hepburn) have no clue their daughter is even engaged, much less to a man of a different ethnic background. Dr. Prentice is quite concerned about how the elder Drayton's will receive the whole situation, not only because of the racial issue but because he and Joanna have known each other a mere ten days. Joanna is more carefree about the matter. She’s convinced her parents are accepting enough to look past any physical and/or possible cultural differences, though even she cops to some worries at one point.

Guess Whos Coming to Dinner BD.jpgIt's a simple narrative about an issue that, at the time, was quite complex for many people. It remains a complex issue for many people nearly 50 years later. In fact, it's Tracy's Mr. Drayton who proclaims that "maybe in 50 or 100 years" it won't be such an issue. Society has come a long way, but it doesn't take a sociologist to see that problems between Caucasians and minorities of all backgrounds continue to an alarming degree. The oddly discomforting thing about Kramer’s film, when viewed in 2015, is how persistently white-centric it remains. As Joanna’s parents, and eventually Dr. Prentice’s parents, try to sort through their feelings about the interracial relationship, the focus always comes back to how Mr. and Mrs. Drayton feel. When Spencer Tracy finally delivers his all-too-prepared monologue about tolerance, the fact that this is a film made by white people and for white people is never clearer. Mr. and Mrs. Prentice are allowed only to sit quietly on the sidelines and watch the white patriarch until he’s good and done with his speechifying.

The clean 1080p transfer delivers a superb image that largely restores all the colorful richness of cinematographer Sam Leavitt’s work. Some of the apparently soft focus close-ups of Hepburn suffer in comparison to the rest of the film, which is generally sharp and detailed. That’s not a knock against the Blu-ray presentation by any means, just an acknowledgement of a production choice that resulted in a slightly inconsistent image. The DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack is simple but flawless.

Lots of special features are present: audio commentary with film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo; introductions by Karen Kramer, Steven Spielberg, Tom Brokaw, and Quincy Jones; featurettes “A Love Story for Today” and “A Special Kind of Love”; “Stanley Kramer: A Man’s Search for Truth”; “Stanley Kramer Accepts the Irving Thalberg Award”; 2007 Producers Guild Stanley Kramer Award Presentation to An Inconvenient Truth; original theatrical trailer; isolated score track.

Dated though it may be, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner remains a very watchable, entertaining film. For ordering information about the limited edition Blu-ray, visit Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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