28 June 2002 | gaityr
"You're a beautiful thing to watch... in action."
PAT & MIKE is the seventh Tracy-Hepburn collaboration, and it stars Spencer Tracy as Mike Conovan, the moneyminded sports racketeer with a heart of gold, and Katharine Hepburn (looking a great deal younger than she did in 1951's THE AFRICAN QUEEN) as his beautiful 'property', Pat Pemberton. Pat is an all-round 'lady athlete', adept at golf and tennis (not to mention shooting, basketball and presumably swimming), but completely frazzled whenever her fiance Collier Weld (a suitably smarmy William Ching) is around and watching her. In a bid to become more in control of herself and her life, she (contrarily) submits to Mike's management and he takes her around the country as a golf and tennis pro. It doesn't take much imagination to realise what happens next--Mike's 'handling' of Pat is the kind of handling she's willing to accept (switch 'Tracy' for 'Mike' and 'Hepburn' for 'Pat' and you get also a description of Tracy and Hepburn's real-life relationship), and before long, Collier is pretty much left in the dust.
This film is evidently a star vehicle for Tracy and Hepburn, containing next to no artistic pretensions or even any real attempt to press a subtle feminist point (in contrast with other Tracy/Hepburn films like WOMAN OF THE YEAR or ADAM'S RIB). In fact, the film seems to be just a comfortable, familiar joke between actors, writers and audience--we know these characters, we know these actors, we know what kind of relationship they always have (bantering, sparring, and in the end just a perfect fit)... the only thing that's different is the names of the characters. Sam, Adam, Mike--Tess, Amanda, Pat--what's the difference?
To be fair, Hepburn's character of Pat Pemberton is much softer and more vulnerable than either Tess Harding or Amanda Bonner. This character variation doesn't hide the real point of the screenplay though--Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin evidently wanted a chance to display both Hepburn's natural athletic abilities (phenomenal for a non-professional, but possibly not 100% believable against sports stars like Babe Zaharias) and her incredible legs. Well, they did succeed at both of these things, to great effect. It's great fun for a Hepburn fan, having read about her deep and abiding love of any and all sports, to get a chance to actually watch her playing golf and tennis onscreen. (This doesn't mean, of course, that the frequent and long golf scenes don't test one's patience occasionally!)
Spencer Tracy has great fun as Mike as well, the sports agent who originally wants Pat to flub a game and come in second. He claims early on in the film that the trouble with her is that she's got too honest a face--it's only Tracy's ability to make rough-and-tumble characters believably vulnerable at heart that makes his later declaration ("I must have caught something from you" i.e. honesty) acceptable. The chemistry between the two is probably closer to the comfortable rapport they shared in ADAM'S RIB as man and wife than the fireworks that went off between them in WOMAN OF THE YEAR. Whatever the case, it is still always a joy to watch Tracy and Hepburn together onscreen, and it's largely because this film stars who it does that you can allow yourself to enjoy and be taken in by what is evidently a cutesy star vehicle written by the stars' friends (Gordon and Kanin), and directed by the leading lady's best and favourite director George Cukor. (Some of the visual tricks, particularly Hepburn's face appearing on that of a horse, are actually more disturbing than flattering, and I--for one--would prefer not to pursue the metaphor through to its end.) Tracy and Hepburn are also boosted by an excellent supporting cast, particularly William Ching as Pat's obnoxious suitor and Aldo Ray as Mike's dimwitted star protege (until Pat comes along, that is!).
PAT & MIKE is a romantic comedy, but it's also romantic-comedy-*lite*. There are no forced or fake separations that are geared towards wringing tears from viewers before a reconciliation (contrast again with ADAM'S RIB and most formulaic films in recent years). The film is just a little piece of joyful fluff--not taxing at all for either the writers, the actors, or the viewers. For a brilliant comic set-piece, watch out for the scene in which Pat takes on the two seedy sports racketeers and dispenses them with remarkable ease and efficiency. Otherwise, watch PAT & MIKE with the knowledge that this is neither Tracy and Hepburn's best, nor is it their worst. If you keep your expectations down, you'll certainly enjoy watching this film because it aims low (aiming only to please and amuse, and not necessarily to engage and thrill), and fulfils those aims very well. 8/10.