Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 
Please join Cultivate Cinema Circle as we screen six films starring the late, great Sidney Poitier. Fourth up is Stanley Kramer’s Oscar-winning (Best Actress & Best Screenplay) film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner .
- Screening Date: Saturday, May 21st, 2022 | 1:00pm
- Venue: The Mason O. Damon Auditorium at Buffalo Central Library
- Specifications: 1967 / 108 minutes / English / Color
- Director(s): Stanley Kramer
- Print: Supplied by Swank
- Tickets: Free and Open to the Public
Downtown Central Library Auditorium
1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, NY 14203
(Enter from Clinton Street between Oak and Washington Streets)
716-858-8900 • www.BuffaloLib.org
COVID protocol will be followed.
In Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s final screen pairing (their ninth), they play an affluent couple whose liberal views are put to the test when their daughter brings home her fiancé, and he turns out to be a black doctor.
- Academy Awards – 1968 – Nominee: Best Film Editing, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Music (Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment), Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration & Best Picture
- Academy Awards – 1968 – Winner: Best Actress in a Leading Role & Best Writing (Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen)
- BAFTA Awards – 1969 – Winner: Best Actor, Best Actress & UN Award
- Directors Guild of America – 1968 – Nominee: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
- Writers Guild of America – 1968 – Nominee: Best Written American Drama (Screen) & Best Written American Original Screenplay (Screen)
- Golden Globes (USA) – 1968 – Nominee: Best Actor – Drama, Best Supporting Actress, Most Promising Newcomer – Female, Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Screenplay, Best Director & Best Actress – Drama
“I never had an occasion to question color, therefore, I only saw myself as what I was… a human being.”
Courtesy of TCM:
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” returned Poitier to the familiar turf of “Negro problem” pictures, but with a contemporized twist: instead of battling the unabashed ignorance of racist America, he found himself opposite sophisticated Northerners played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film). The grand old screen duo played an ostensibly enlightened couple who find their liberal sensibilities strained when their daughter brings home her fiancé, an older, divorced doctor, who just happens to be Poitier. Again under Kramer’s direction, the picture parlayed the myriad pitfalls of the stark realities simple “love” still faced, given the country’s darkly drawn racial lines, especially at the zenith of the civil rights movement; the Supreme Court had just that summer struck down 14 Southern states’ standing laws against interracial marriages, and Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated while the film was still in theaters. The film’s heady discourse struck a chord, taking in a for-the-time whopping $56.7 million at the box office in North America.
But Poitier’s most dauntlessly cool performance came in “In the Heat of the Night,” a steamy neo-noir that set Poitier in the heart of the deep South – still so blatantly segregated that Poitier nixed location shooting in Mississippi, prompting the production to move to tiny Sparta, IL. Poitier played a Philadelphia homicide detective, Virgil Tibbs, initially accused of a murder in a hick Mississippi town, who then assists the local Sheriff Gillespie (Rod Steiger) solve the case. Under the deft direction of Norman Jewison, Poitier and Steiger played a dueling character study; a sophisticated black authority the likes of which the town has never seen versus an abrasive, outwardly racist yokel stereotype more enlightened and thoughtful than he lets on. The film also proved a hit, winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor (Steiger).
Poitier’s three films in 1967 made him, by total box-office receipts, the No. 1 box-office draw in Hollywood. And yet, even in the thick of his success, Poitier’s singular identification as the spokesman for African-Americans came with proportionate scrutiny. While he had embraced the civil rights movement publicly – he keynoted the annual convention of Martin Luther King’s activist Southern Christian Leadership Conference in August 1967 – some in the African-American community (as well as some film critics) began vocalizing their displeasure with the never-ending string of saintly and sexless characters Poitier played. Black playwright and drama critic Clifford Mason became the sounding board for these sentiments in an analysis published on the front page of The New York Times’ drama section on Sept. 10, 1967. Mason referred to Poitier’s characters as “unreal” and essentially “the same role, the antiseptic, one-dimensional hero.”
Although devastated by the attacks, Poitier himself had begun to chafe against the cultural restrictions which cast him as the unimpeachable role model instead of a fully flawed and functioning human. Sidney Poitier attempted to take a greater hand in his work, penning a romantic comedy that he would star in called “For the Love of Ivy” (1968), and attempting a more visceral representation of the travails of inner city America in “The Lost Man” (1969), but neither met the success of his previous films or effectively muted his critics. The Times’ Vincent Canby called the latter, “Poitier’s attempt to recognize the existence and root causes of black militancy without making anyone – white or black – feel too guilty or hopeless.” He also founded a creator-controlled studio, First Artists Corp., with partners Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand. But his damaged image, amid an up-and-coming crop of black actors unencumbered by his “integrationist” stigma, enforced a sense of isolation about Poitier, likely amplified by a falling out with his longtime friend Belafonte and his estrangement from wife Juanita.
Some of that oddly went reflected in an unlikely, blaxploitation-infused sequel, “They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!” (1970), in which he reprised his classic character to ill-effect. By 1970, Poitier had struck up a passionate new romance with Canadian model Joanna Shimkus and exiled himself to a semi-permanent residence in The Bahamas. He would make one more forgettable Tibbs sequel, “The Organization” (1971), but he would return to Hollywood in a different capacity.
With Hollywood now recognizing the power of the black purse, even for cheaply produced “blaxploitation” pictures, Columbia saw the potential for “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), in which Harry Belafonte and Poitier would play mismatched Western adventurers who team up to save homesteading former slaves from cowboy predators. Belafonte co-produced and Poitier, after initial squabbles with the director, was given reign and Poitier, after initial squabbles with the director, was given reign by the studio to complete the film in the director’s chair.
He produced, directed and starred in his next outing, a tepid romance called “A Warm December” (1973), which tanked, but he found his stride soon after back among friends. He directed and starred with Belafonte, Bill Cosby and an up-and-coming Richard Pryor in their answer to the blaxploitation wave, “Uptown Saturday Night” (1974), an action/comedy romp about two regular guys (Cosby and Poitier) whose devil-may-care night out becomes an odyssey through the criminal underworld. “Uptown” proved such a winning combo that Poitier would make two more successful buddy pictures starring himself and Cosby: “Let’s Do it Again” (1975) and “A Piece of the Action” (1977).
Poitier also returned to Africa and an actor-only capacity for another anti-apartheid film, “The Wilby Conspiracy” (1975), co-starring Michael Caine. After marrying Shimkus in 1976, he returned to the States most notably to direct Pryor’s own buddy picture; the second comedy pairing Pryor with Gene Wilder, “Stir Crazy” (1980), a story about two errant New Yorkers framed for a crime in the west and imprisoned. With Poitier letting the two actors’ fish-out-of-water comic talents play off their austere environs, the film became one of highest-grossing comedies of all time. A later outing with Wilder, “Hanky Panky” (1982), and a last directorial turn with Cosby, the infamous flop “Ghost Dad” (1990), proved profoundly less successful.
After more than a decade absent from the screen, Poitier made a celebrated return as an actor in the 1988 action flick “Shoot to Kill” and the espionage thriller “Little Nikita” (1988), though both proved less than worthy of the milestone. He would take parts rarely after that; only those close to his heart in big-budget TV movie events: NAACP lawyer -later the U.S.’s first African-American Supreme Court justice – Thurgood Marshall in “Separate But Equal” (ABC, 1991), Nelson Mandela, the heroic South African dissident and later president, in “Nelson & De Klerk” (Showtime, 1997), and “To Sir, With Love II” (CBS, 1996). He also took some choice supporting roles in feature actioners “Sneakers” (1992) and “The Jackal” (1997).
In 1997, the Bahamas appointed Poitier its ambassador to Japan, and has also made him a representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Poitier No. 22 in the top 25 male screen legends, and in 2006, the AFI’s list of the “100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time” tabulated more Poitier films than those of any other actor except Gary Cooper (both had five). In 2002, he was given an Honorary Oscar with the inscription, “To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being,” and in 2009, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. trade, accepts one teaching marginal, troubled cockney students in London and reached them via honest empathy and by treating them as adults. Buoyed by the popular title song by Brit-pop star Lulu (who also played a student), the film became a sleeper hit.
- Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You (2013)
- Sing Your Song (2011)
- Tell Them Who You Are (2004)
- The Last Brickmaker in America (2001)
- The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn (1999)
- Free of Eden (1999)
- David and Lisa (1998)
- Mandela and de Klerk (1997)
- The Jackal (1997)
- To Sir With Love II (1996)
- Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995)
- A Century Of Cinema (1994)
- World Beat (1993)
- Sneakers (1992)
- Shoot To Kill (1988)
- Little Nikita (1988)
- The Spencer Tracy Legacy (1986)
- A Piece Of The Action (1977)
- The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)
- Let’s Do It Again (1975)
- Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
- Buck and the Preacher (1972)
- A Warm December (1972)
- Brother John (1971)
- The Organization (1971)
- King: A Filmed Record … Montgomery to Memphis (1970)
- They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (1970)
- The Lost Man (1969)
- For Love of Ivy (1968)
- To Sir, With Love (1967)
- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
- In the Heat of the Night (1967)
- Duel at Diablo (1966)
- A Patch of Blue (1965)
- The Slender Thread (1965)
- The Bedford Incident (1965)
- The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
- The Long Ships (1964)
- Lilies of the Field (1963)
- Pressure Point (1962)
- A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
- Paris Blues (1961)
- All the Young Men (1960)
- Virgin Island (1960)
- Porgy and Bess (1959)
- The Defiant Ones (1958)
- The Mark of the Hawk (1958)
- Edge of the City (1957)
- Band of Angels (1957)
- Something of Value (1957)
- Good-Bye, My Lady (1956)
- Blackboard Jungle (1955)
- Go Man Go (1954)
- Red Ball Express (1952)
- Cry, the Beloved Country (1952)
- No Way Out (1950)
“I’m always pursuing the next dream, hunting for the next truth.”
Courtesy of TCM:
Stanley Kramer made his reputation during the 1950s and 60s as one of the few producers and directors willing to tackle issues most studios sought to avoid, such as racism, the Holocaust and nuclear annihilation. He came to Hollywood an aspiring writer and hooked on with MGM, working first as a scenery mover and carpenter and then in their research department before spending three years there as an editor. He wrote for radio as well as for Columbia and Republic Studios for awhile, but it was as a strong-willed independent producer that Kramer would finally make his mark. Though his first feature (“So This Is New York,” 1948) flopped, he hit his stride with his next one, the intense and exciting anti-boxing pic “Champion” (1949), which propelled Kirk Douglas to stardom and launched Mark Robson’s career as an important director.
The series of commercially successful economy productions that followed, by turns prestigious and socially responsible and all scripted by “Champion” screenwriter Carl Foreman, established Kramer as bankable in the industry’s eyes. Both Robson’s “Home of the Brave” (1949), which addressed the persecution of a black soldier by his white comrades, and Fred Zinnemann’s “The Men” (1950), a drama about paraplegic war veterans featuring Marlon Brando in his first screen role, were melodramas with provocatively modern and relevant situations and settings. Kramer then took a holiday from the contemporary tracts with “Cyrano de Bergerac” (1950), a film that earned a Best Actor Oscar for Jose Ferrer. By the time the last and best of these, the allegorical Western “High Noon” (1952), won an aging Gary Cooper a Best Actor Oscar (among the four it received), Kramer had already made his deal with the devil, having agreed to produce 30 films over a five year period for Columbia.
Money spoiled the look Kramer had managed to give his independent pictures. The films he oversaw for Columbia were glossier and closer in “production values” to other big-studio productions but lacked the do-it-yourself excitement of his earlier work, and all but the last one lost money. Edward Dmytryk’s hugely successful screen version of Herman Wouk’s “The Caine Mutiny” (1954) would cover the losses of the other nine, but Columbia had already seen enough and bought out his contract before the film’s release, opening the door for him to fulfill a long-standing ambition to direct as well as produce his films. Although his films for Columbia fell below the standards he had set on his own, most boasted fine acting and probably deserved better than they got, but adaptations of “Death of a Salesman” (1951) and “Member of the Wedding” (1952) proved too highbrow for the public while the remarkable cult children’s film “The Five Thousand Fingers of Dr T” (1953), a fantasy devised by Dr Seuss, was just a little too “out there” for the times.
“Not As a Stranger” (1955), a melodramatic hospital story which critics disparaged as well-acted fluff, started Kramer’s directing career off with a commercial bang, but his second film, “The Pride and the Passion” (1957), was the silliest project he ever undertook. “The Defiant Ones” (1958), regarded by many as his best directorial effort, returned to the race card and began his ten-year run as one of the most successful (and certainly the most earnest) directors in Hollywood. Kramer then tackled the problem of The Bomb itself with “On the Beach” (1959), arranging its simultaneous release in 18 cities, including Moscow, to help save the world, before helming two courtroom dramas based on real events, “Inherit the Wind” (1960), the gripping tale of the Scopes’ “monkey” trial, and “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), his indictment of Nazi war atrocities. Although the subject matter addressed was always important, Kramer’s excessive forthrightness stacked the deck to manipulate sentiment, causing many critics to resent his heavy-handedness, no one more than Pauline Kael who repeatedly assailed his “self-righteous, self-congratulatory” tone.
After picking up the 1961 Irving G Thalberg Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his social responsibility, Kramer switched to comedy, giving slapstick a black eye with his overly ambitious “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” (1963), before returning to the more serious terrain of Katherine Anne Porter’s novel “Ship of Fools” (1995), which he dispatched in an absorbingly well-paced, tidily knit adaptation. Of course, the audience could not possibly miss the point that the world’s weakness permitted Hitler’s rise since there was an urbane and sardonic dwarf (Michael Dunn) to spell it out for them, yet despite the lack of subtlety exhibited during his heyday, Kramer consistently put great acting on display. His last big success, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967), was no exception, offering sterling performances by Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn that overcame a saccharine screenplay which nonetheless dealt with the then relatively taboo subject of interracial marriage. Could any eye stay dry at its end when he sustained that two shot of Tracy in profile on the left foreground of the screen and Hepburn, her eyes brimming with tears, in the right background looking at the love of her life knowing full well he is not long for the world?
Of Kramer’s remaining six films, “Oklahoma Crude” (1973), with its careful attention to period detail and fine performances by Faye Dunaway, George C Scott and Jack Palance, was probably the best, but after increasingly negative notices for “The Domino Principle” (1977) and the downright disastrous “The Runner Stumbles” (1979), there were no longer any studios willing to sponsor the man once regarded as the “conscience” of Hollywood. The hostility of the critical establishment towards Kramer is no doubt to some extent a reaction against the excessive praise which greeted his early work, but there can also be little doubt that he achieved his highest quality of artistic expression as an independent producer of the late 40s and early 50s, benefiting from fine scripts by Carl Foreman and the complementary vision of his men at the helm. Though flawed by their lack of even-handedness, his pictures as a producer-director were invariably intelligent, ambitious and well-intentioned efforts striking morally (and commercially) responsive chords for their times. In his later years, Kramer often turned up on TV interview documentaries about Hollywood’s past, proving himself a lively raconteur and unabashed fan of the many talented people with whom he had worked. In 1997, he published his memoirs, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood.”
- The Runner Stumbles (1979)
- The Domino Principle (1977)
- Oklahoma Crude (1973)
- Bless the Beasts & Children (1971)
- R. P. M. (1970)
- The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)
- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
- Ship of Fools (1965)
- It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
- Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
- Inherit the Wind (1960)
- On the Beach (1959)
- The Defiant Ones (1958)
- The Pride and the Passion (1957)
- Not As a Stranger (1955)
Here is a curated selection of links for additional insight/information:
- Cultivate Cinema Circle info-sheet – link
- “Problem: how to tell an interracial love story in a literate, non-sensational and balanced way. Solution: make it a drama with comedy. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is an outstanding Stanley Kramer production, superior in almost every imaginable way, which examines its subject matter with perception, depth, insight, humor and feeling. Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn head a perfect cast. A landmark in its tasteful introduction of sensitive material to the screen, the Columbia release can look to torrid b.o. response throughout a long-legged theatrical release…Apart from the pic itself, there are several plus angles. This is the ninth teaming of Tracy and Miss Hepburn, and the last, unfortunately; Tracy died shortly after principal photography was complete. Older audiences who remember their successful prior pix will be drawn to this one, while younger crowds will be attracted by the interracial romance.Also, for Poitier, film marked a major step forward, not just in his proven acting ability, but in the opening-up of his script character. In many earlier films, he seemed to come from nowhere; he was a symbol. But herein, he has a family, a professional background, likes, dislikes, humor, temper. In other words, he is a whole human being. This alone is a major achievement in screenwriting, and for Poitier himself, his already recognized abilities now have expanded casting horizons. To point out acting highlights would be to repeat the cast listing; suffice it to say that Kramer cast with care and directed in the same sure manner. Miss Houghton is an attractive, talented girl who is off to a running start. Miss Sanford, the maid, has not been in pix before, according to associate producer Glass; well, she’s off to a strong start, too.” — A.D. Murphy, Variety  – link
- “What it boils down to, then, is that the two fathers are overcome by implied attacks on their masculinity. The race question becomes secondary; what Tracy really had to decide is if he feels inadequate as a man. Kramer accomplishes this transition so subtly you hardly notice it. But it is the serious flaw in his plot, I think. Still, perhaps Kramer was being more clever than we imagine. He has pointed out in interviews that his film does accomplish its purpose, after all. And it does. Here is a film about interracial marriage that has the audience throwing rice. The women in the audience can usually be counted on to identify with the love story. I suppose. But what about those men? Will love conquer prejudice? I wonder if Kramer isn’t sneaking up on one of the underlying causes of racial prejudice when he implies that the fathers feel their masculinity threatened. All of these deep profundities aside, however, let me say that Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a magnificent piece of entertainment. It will make you laugh and may even make you cry. When old, gray-haired, weather-beaten Spencer Tracy turns to Katharine Hepburn and declares, by God, that he DOES remember what it is like to be in love, there is nothing to do but believe him.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times  – link
- “[Lyndon B.] Johnson’s evolving legacy was evoked in Norman Jewison’s Best Picture–winning In the Heat of the Night (1967), which allegorized his antisegragationist sentiments via Rod Steiger’s overtly racist yet ultimately justice-minded Mississippi police chief, who teams up with Sidney Poitier’s big-city Philadelphia cop to solve a murder. Poitier actually pulled double duty in 1967, emerging as the Summer of Love’s most significant sociological symbol. Besides sparring with Steiger, Poitier won over some not-so-liberal in-laws in Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a dated conversation piece of a movie updated and given a satirical flip on its 50th anniversary by Jordan Peele in Get Out. In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner toe the line between thoughtful, responsible social commentary and didactic messaging; their contents reflect a genuine national uncertainty in the wake of LBJ’s landmark bipartisan 1964 legislation formally outlawing discrimination on the basis of race. What undermines both films is the idea—particularly grating in Kramer’s film—that Poitier’s paragon-like nature (underlined by his status as the first black actor to win an Academy Award, as a saintly workman in Lilies of the Field) is what compels tolerance from his onscreen partners. Their shared implication is that to win even grudging respect from the older white cohort, an African American character has to embody a sort of baseline perfection. Both box office hits, neither In the Heat of the Night nor Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was necessarily an explicit shot across Johnson’s bow: For that, you’d need to survey the margins of American moviemaking, where subversives were marshalling a belligerent resistance to LBJ’s efforts.” — Adam Nayman, The Ringer  – link