The Pros

Once again, Claire and Glenn Kenny anticipate me on PAT AND MIKE with an excellent piece I’m not even going to try to compete with. But it inspired me to watch the film for the first time, an easy sell for Fiona on account of the stars, particularly Aldo Ray. Come for Aldo Ray, stay to see Kate Hepburn beat up Charles Bronson.

This one also has William Ching in the schnook role as Pat/Kate’s betrothed, and a good central conceit — his presence “frazzles” Hepburn when she does sports — she’s a superhuman who can excel at anything, but not if he’s watching. There’s a great hallucinatory tennis match in which Kate’s racket shrinks and detumesces while her opponent’s (an intriguing Betty Page type in a satin costume) grows Brobdingnagian. Ching keeps turning up even though he’s not wanted — “I have never hated a man so much!” declared Fiona. And so the movie becomes an attractively progressive story, in which the initially exploitative Tracy character, her shady promoter, become a nurturing partner, highly preferable to the stifling stiff she started out with.

Watched this to get deeper into Cukor for a quick project I’m hopefully finishing today.

Cukor on Tracy/Hepburn: “Chemically they’re so funny together because they should have no rapport at all.” Accentuated here because Tracy isn’t playing a patriarchal authority figure, it’s a welcome return to his shady pre-code scoundrels.

But, aside from the Hepburn-Bronson fight scene, Aldo gets the biggest laughs as a dim boxer (a pure character role, a surprising transition from his introductory perf in THE MARRYING KIND). As when Tracy upends a card table to stop an after-hours poker game. A loud, plaintive and exquisitely drawn-out lament of “Now we’ll never know!” It takes about five seconds for this tiny sentence to be expressed, and it’s somehow touching and hilarious just because “Davie Hucko” thinks it’s an actual observation, something nobody would realise if he didn’t utter it.

Beautiful dialogue by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, who have a way of garbling the language that’s semi-naturalistic, believable enough, but still stylised — every grammatical atrocity has its own demented poetry. Amid the real locations, with the real sports stars with their real human faces, the words are the most artificial element. A better film than ADAM’S RIB, we agreed, once you get past the weirdly huge amount of golf at the start.

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4 Responses to “The Pros”

  1. What’s interesting here regarding Hepburn iconography is that “Pat” is great at sports but floundering about somewhat helplessly in life. This comes off much better that the “Woman of the Year” trope in which she can do everything but cook. Tracy isn’t a sparring partner here but an exceptionally patient and pleasant supporter. And as always Aldo Ray steals the show.

  2. Aldo deserves much more credit and fame. One could almost — almost! — forgive Tarantino his many sins for boosting AR in Inglourious Basterds, via Brad Pitt’s character name, a not-so-subtle tribute.

  3. Recalling that this is one of those stories where a woman wins by losing. Pat, who takes down thugs, makes a show of needing Mike to rescue her from the hapless fiance. And he appears to buy it.

    There’s the romcom form, “She chases him till he catches her”; often with some deception to persuade the hero it’s all his idea, or that his manly heroics are desperately required. There’s the sitcom form, where goofy husbands have sensible wives who protect their egos (to a point), or at least own up to an irrational affection for their idiot mates. There’s the unfortunate melodramatic form, where the woman Gives It All Up for her man and presumably lives happily ever after as a result (or doesn’t Give It All Up, and at fadeout is in despair because All can’t compare with a man).

    “Annie Get Your Gun” has Annie Oakley ostentatiously losing a shooting match against Frank Butler (in real life, Butler married her and surrendered the spotlight long before they joined Buffalo Bill. They were a sweet, boring couple.). Sometimes he’s played with a wink, but usually as so comically egotistical he believes he beat her fair and square — and immediately proposes. What makes it work is that Annie herself is not the brightest firefly in the jar — just a hair brighter than him in the end (adoptive father Sitting Bull has to explain it to her).

  4. Pat wins by WINNING, though. Ching loses his negative, off-putting power over her when she has Mike instead, and she’s victorious in the golf tournament.

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