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The Twisted Razor Collection #1 - Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

The film opens with a plane flying through the beautiful San Francisco skyline as the credits roll. We are then introduced to our main characters, John Prentice (played by Sidney Poitier) and Joey Drayton (played by Katharine Houghton), walking through the airport. A little over a minute in and we already see that they are a happy interracial couple, which was considered taboo during the late sixties.

 Despite this, they look like any other happy couple from the time, obviously, they are both free-thinkers and don’t care about the social norms of the time. 

The film seems like a parody of a standard couple of the time with the shock value being that they are an interracial couple.

Also, note the musical choice-- ‘The Glory of Love’ by Bette Midler. The lyrics somewhat represent the characters themselves, “And when the world is through with us, we’ve got each other's arms…” This can be interpreted as follows: despite the people of the time having their own thoughts on interracial relationships, the couple does not care because they have each other. 

But I digress. As they get into a taxi, we get a very comedic scene of the couple kissing each other in the back seat. The driver seems almost shocked at this but continues to drive. 

In their first conversation, we are introduced to the plot. John is about to meet Joey’s parents. We also see that he is a bit nervous, even trying to avoid it altogether. We also see that their visit will be a complete surprise to her parents. They didn’t tell them that they were coming. It also seems as if John has experienced racism in the past, and is afraid that Joey’s parents might be racist. However, Joey assures him otherwise. 

We also get to see more of the beautiful San Francisco scenery. There’s something about the place that makes it perfect for many classics-- Vertigo, Dirty Harry, The Maltese Falcon, and, of course, San Francisco from 1936. 

They go to her mother’s place of work and we are given views of some amazing artwork. John seems enticed by a kinetic sculpture. We are introduced to her mother’s receptionist-- Hilary St. George (played by Virginia Christine). 

When she meets John for the first time, Hilary is taken aback. She is able to stay civil but is obviously in shock. When Joey says that she’s back in town, Hilary even asks if everything is alright. She has an obvious stutter and an ingenious yet frozen smile across her face. 

 She says that Joey’s mother is out for lunch. She also mentions Joey and John’s trip to Hawaii, this clears up where they came from.

They go back in the taxi and are off to her mother’s house. I would also like to note how brilliant the rear-projection effects are during the taxi scenes. Normally it’s just still footage of the background moving along behind them, but here we see the background zooming around, this achieves the effect of the car seemingly speeding down a bumpy road. 

They are dropped off and John puts on a strange hat. I can’t tell if it is purposefully strange or not, but it really is weird. It seems like a straw top-hat. I thought it was quite odd. 

Anyway, we are introduced to Tillie (played by Isabel Sanford). She is the housekeeper and is also African-American (like John). She is somewhat reminiscent of Hattie McDaniel’s character as a mammy in the classic film ‘Gone With the Wind’. 

We also briefly see Dorothy (played by Barbara Randolph). 

John asks to use a phone to call his parents and goes to the study. The door is shut and he is alone. He obviously is nervous and afraid to meet her parents.

We cut to Tillie scolding Joey for dating a black man (despite them being the same race). In this scene, Christine utters the unfortunate phrase-- “You’re just as black as he is.” She doesn’t say it in a spiteful or racist way, but more naively. As if she doesn’t know that what she said was wrong.

Christina’s mother (played by Kathrine Hepburn) comes home and is concerned for Joey since she made the spontaneous decision to come. Hilary had told her that John was back. 

Joey also says that she has only known John for ten days. She seems overjoyed and excited to introduce John to her.

We cut back to John talking to his father on the phone. He also seems nervous to tell his father that she is white. (It is also revealed that he is 37 and she is 23 which is quite a big age gap). There’s a subtle comedy in John being scared to talk about Joey to his father and Joey talking in-depth about John. For different reasons, they ignore the difference in ethnicities (John out of fear, Joey out of not feeling that it is important). 

Joey also reveals that John was previously married and had a son. His wife and son were both killed in a train accident. 

John comes out of the study and meets Joey’s mother. Mrs. Drayton is shocked (and almost faints) at John being (in the film's words) ‘a negroe’. Still, John is able to keep his cool and somehow is still charming as ever. 

Joey reveals that they met at Hawaii university when John gave a lecture. John gave this lecture because he is a certified doctor. This explains the long age gap between them. 

Mrs. Drayton makes no attempt to cover her shock, unlike Hillary. No matter what Joey says, she keeps a frown frozen on her face. 

Joey’s father, Mr. Drayton (played by Spencer Tracey) comes into the house. Tillie had no time to fully explain the situation, only managing to get out the fact that a ‘doctor’ was in the house with Joey.

This obviously concerns Mr. Drayton and he rushes into the room. Joey quickly cleared up the confusion, the doctor in the room was just John. Still, they didn’t fully state that John was dating Joey. 

Mr. Drayton almost leaves the house again without any explanation of who John really is. However, he turns around very suddenly, and where once there was a smile is now a serious expression.

He slowly walks back over to John and stares him down before finally asking: “What the hell is going on here?”

John had to awkwardly explain the entire situation to Mr. Drayton. He also reveals that he loves Joey. He also drops a bombshell on them-- He and Joey wish to get married.

The look of shock on Joey’s parents' faces says it all. We get a more well-meaning but slightly racist talk from Joey (‘It never occurred to me that I might fall in love with a negroe!)

Her parents are shocked by just the thought of her marrying a man of color. Her father goes inside and attempts to find some dirt on John. Mrs. Drayton is more open to Joey marrying John, but her father is still against it.

John goes to Mr. and Mrs. Drayton in private. John tells them that unless they approve of the marriage he won’t marry Joey. John also says that the reason he likes Joey so much is because she doesn’t see a color difference between them. She treats him like a normal guy.

Eventually, John and Mrs. Drayton are able to talk Mr. Drayton into accepting it. We also learn that the Draytons are free-thinkers. Their expressions were more of shock than genuine racism. 

Mr. Drayton is not able to find any dirt on John, but only his accolades and achievements. They even found three dollars under the phone (from John when he called his father). All of this further reinforces their acceptance of it. 

We cut back to a wonderful scene with Joey and John. The actors have undeniable chemistry and bring the characters to life. The way they can bounce off of each other with quick wit makes for a classic scene.

We are treated to an interesting transitional shot. The camera is zoomed in all the way to make it seem up close to Joey and John. It then moves back very suddenly to show a silhouette right in front of it. Mr. and Mrs. Drayton is watching them. 

Mrs. Drayton has tears in her eyes. I don’t think the tears are from sadness, but rather joy. Mrs. Drayton remarks that it is the happiest she has ever seen Joey. Kathrine Hepburn gives a brilliant and heartwarming monologue, remarking that she is happy for and proud of Joey. 

Tillie still doesn’t approve of John and Joey’s relationship. Perhaps she feels jealous. She has been forced to be a housekeeper for years now, and now perhaps she feels that it is unfair for a person of color to be successful and with a white girl. 

We cut to Mr. Drayton recalling to John a time when black people couldn't play baseball. Mr. Drayton then gets serious and tells John of the problems with his and Joey’s children. The racism they’ll have to face. However, John reassures him that times are changing.

John gets a call from his father. They plan on coming up to San Francisco that evening to meet Joey. The only problem is that they think Joey is a black girl. Joey insists on meeting John’s parents at the airport. John objects, but Joey is too insistent. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Drayton begins bragging about his future son-in-law. He feels proud that John is a doctor. They have finally warmed up to them. 

We then realize that the ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner moment’ is not Joey introducing John, it’s John introducing his parents. Mr. Drayton is outraged to have John’s parents in their home, but once again, Mrs. Drayton keeps him calm.

Suddenly, somebody knocks on the door. We are then introduced to Monsignor Ryan Mike (played by Cecil Kellaway) a close friend of Mr. Drayton. He seems to already like John, even saying that he admired the work of John that was in the papers. To the surprise of the Draytons, Mike doesn’t care about John’s skin color.

Hilary comes to the house as well and is shocked at the news of Joey and John soon getting married. Mrs. Drayton practically kicked Hilary out of the house and walked her back to the car.

We then see Hilary and Mrs. Crayton standing in the drive-way. Hilary is heavily against the interracial couple. Mrs. Crayton fires Hilary because of her racism and forces her to leave. This shows just how much admiration they have for John. 

When Mrs. Drayton comes back and Joey is enraged at Hilary.

We cut back to Mike talking to Mr. Drayton. Drayton confesses that he feels as if the couple would not make it. Mike reassures him and leaves, but he is invited to dinner.

Mr. Drayton is still skeptical about the interracial relationship. He gets antsy and wants to go on a drive. As Mrs. Drayton tries to calm his nerves, he snaps and shouts at her. Still, she continues on.

The Drayton parents go to get ice-cream. Mr. Drayton gets a large ice-cream and Mrs. Drayton a black coffee. We then get another great monologue from Kathrine Hepburn comparing her marriage to Joey’s. 

Mr. Drayton gets a new specialty flavor. At first, he is taken aback, but as he eats it he realizes that it isn’t that bad. This can be seen as a comparison to the Drayton parents’ feelings about John. At first, taken aback, but they quickly warm up to him. Mrs. Drayton is happy at Mr. Drayton’s ability to accept change (not only in the ice-cream flavor but in his acceptance of John now being part of his family.) Perhaps this is even America as a whole’s view of interracial couples. As John said, times are changing. 

We cut to Tillie barging into John’s room. She snaps at him, but he stays calm and charming. He cracks jokes at her, but she is not having it. She accuses him of abusing his black power and scolds him before storming off. 

We cut back to Mr. and Mrs. Drayton leaving the ice-cream place. They put their car in reverse but accidentally hit another car. The driver (a black man) begins to freak out to Mr. Drayton. He continues to shout at Mr. Drayton, causing him to run away. Funny enough, the public applauds the African-American. Unfortunately, this causes Mr. Drayton to reconsider his thoughts on black people. 

The crowd's applauds showed just how quickly times were changing. Now in a situation like this, a man of color is allowed to shout at a caucasian and is applauded for it. This shows that there were many people like Joey-- Free-thinkers who would stand up for people of color against a white man (even if the black man was perhaps in the wrong).

We cut to John and Joey meeting her friends. They (like Joey) don’t care about his skin color. During this scene, John and Joey decide to leave San Francisco together that very night. 

We cut to Mr. Drayton who (seemingly after the altercation) is now against John and Joey’s marriage. He plans on not giving his blessing to John. This upsets Mrs. Drayton.

She steps outside in tears and looks over at the sunset. 

Meanwhile, Joey and John go to meet John’s parents (played by Roy Glenn and Beah Richards) at the airport. John is finally able to explain that Joey is caucasian. They are both speechless at the sight of her. 

We cut to Mrs. Drayton trying to talk Mr. Drayton out of not giving his blessing. Once again, we got a beautiful monologue by Kathrine Hepburn. 

John, Joey, and his parents all ride in the car. There is an awkward silence. Suddenly, they all talk at once, but quickly all goes silent once again. Nobody plans on breaking the ice.

Mr. Prentice is outraged that John is dating a white girl. Just like Joey’s parents, Mrs. Prentice tries to stay civil and polite. 

Mike comes back to the Drayton’s house early to help with dinner. Mrs. Drayton begins to cry and confesses to Mike that Mr. Drayton will not give his blessing. He plans to embarrass John in front of Joey and his family. 

Mrs. Drayton walks over to Tillie, and Tillie says that she actually agrees with Mr. Drayton.

Meanwhile, Mike attempts to talk Mr. Drayton out of it. However, he is unsuccessful.

The Prentices and Joey finally make it back home for dinner. Mrs. Drayton welcomes them in with hospitality. 

Mr. Drayton finally comes down stairs to meet the Prentices and to present Mike. He remains polite and civil and makes casual small talk. Soon, however, Mr. Drayton gets serious and raises his first concern-- they are rushing it. However, he is pleased to find that Mr. Prentice agrees.

Mrs. Drayton takes Mrs. Prentice out to talk privately.  The two men go to the study to talk privately themselves.

The women agree that they approve of the marriage, but that their husbands do not. 

The men agree that the marriage should not happen.

Suddenly, John’s mother pulls him aside to talk to him privately, and Mrs. Drayton goes to talk to Joey in private. Mr. Prentice goes to talk his son out of the marriage. That leaves Mr. Drayton and Mrs. Prentice to talk.

They have a heartfelt conversation, both of them making compelling arguments. However, Mrs. Prentice gives an amazing speech to Mr. Drayton. It’s such a beautiful speech that it finally makes Mr. Drayton think.

Meanwhile, Mr. Prentice begins to overwhelm and berate John. At first, John took the shouting. However, he was eventually able to stand up for himself in another fantastic speech. In the speech, it’s as if John represents the new generation in America, open to change, free-thinking, and acceptance.

However,  Mr. Prentice seems to represent the old era of America-- Resistance of change, bitterness to the new generation, and somewhat of an inability to accept others. Mr. Prentice thought that John owed him something just because he was his father, but in reality, John didn’t owe him anything. Mr. Prentice was simply doing what any dad should-- Provide for his son. 

There’s no better way to explain it than how John does in the film-- “You [Mr. Prentice] think of yourself as a colored man, I think of myself as a man.”

Both fathers are now beginning to think about what they’ve done.

Finally, they are all in the living room, and Mr. Drayton begins to make an announcement. He breaks into a heartwarming monologue in which he gives them his blessing. They go off to dinner as “The Glory of Love” plays once again. 

 

This movie is wonderful, but what makes it so great? Of course, the acting is brilliant and the writing is witty, but what about it really makes this ‘great’? 

I think that this movie perfectly shows the battle between the new ‘hippie’ generation of the 60s’ and the older generations before it. 

Everybody agrees that everything we do should be for the betterment of the world. Something that will make the future better, for ourselves, the children, and the world as a whole. This film exemplifies how important change is for people to be happy.

During the sixties, many progressive movements became huge-- Civil rights, women's rights, anti-war, etc. This film was released when the movements had reached their peak. Still, it was movements like civil rights that allowed for this film to be made at all.

On the surface, “Guess Who’s coming to Dinner” seems to be like any romantic comedy, but when you peel back the layers you are able to see what it is. A social commentary on the times. A warning to the older generations that change is inevitable and they had to accept it. 

This film may not be perfect, but it is because of this film (and others like it) that we are able to have interracial marriage not viewed as taboo. It’s somewhat comedic to look back at it with (literal) 2020 perspective and see just how big of a deal they made of it. 

I believe that this film is special because it had a message. It was able to say that message clearly without outright telling you it, and it allows for many other interpretations. The best way to form an opinion of it is to watch it yourself.

 

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