Plot: Joey (Katharine Houghton) is excited to return home from a Parisian holiday, as she has fallen in love and plans to wed her new beau. The romance has been brief, but she is certain he is the one. Now she plans to introduce him to her parents on this return visit, before heading out once again to join her future husband on a business trip, after which they will be married. But her boyfriend John (Sidney Poitier) is concerned about how her parents will react, as she is white and he happens to be black. Joey is certain they won’t raise an eyebrow, as her parents are devoted liberals who have fought for equal rights and raised her to treat all races the same. John also knows his own parents will likely have an adverse reaction, so it is a potentially volatile situation. As the introduction approaches, will Joey’s parents accept John into their family and how will this night of surprises play out?
Entertainment Value: This movie remains relevant after multiple decades, as it deals with issues that remain pertinent and does so with great skill, choosing to inspire discussion, rather than stir up reactions. This premise of white liberals forced to face their own internal prejudices is a theme that has been covered time and again, but here is done with a thoughtful, balanced approach. The mothers are elated to see such a powerful romance in blossom, while the fathers struggle to accept the situation, as they see the potential problems involved. The movie is able to be candid and open about the issue of race, but never feels driven by hate, even in the outbursts from Tillie, who dislikes John’s bold intentions. The inner conflict is examined, mostly from the view of Spencer Tracy’s role, as he processes the situation and has to battle a mindset he never knew he had. He is presented as a loving father who wants the best for his daughter, but is torn over the issues she might face, as well as being put into a high pressure, limited time ultimatum. These are well crafted, believable characters put into an interesting situation, performed by a masterful cast. I think the decision to spark discussion, rather than pander for outrage is what makes this such a classic, as well as why it remains such a relevant movie.
No nakedness. No blood. This one has no sexual content (the new couple hasn’t slept together), but it does bring up the importance of romance, love, and that magical connection between two people. No violence either, as the movie uses a thoughtful approach and doesn’t pander to hate. The writing is excellent and gives us realistic, complicated characters that navigate a unique social situation under pressure, as time is a real concern. Tracy’s character has the most conflict, at least until John’s father arrives, but that is late into the picture. His performance is strong and effective, despite his poor health and of course, he would die a couple weeks after the movie was completed. Poitier is fine form as well, of course and his conversation with his in-movie father is powerful, to say the least. The rest of the cast is capable as well, with Katharine Hepburn, Isabelle Sanford, Katharine Houghton, and Cecil Kellaway in prominent roles. No real craziness in this one, the movie remains ground and always thoughtful.