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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) movie poster Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Theatrical Release: December 12, 1967 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Stanley Kramer / Writer: William Rose

Cast: Spencer Tracy (Matt Drayton), Sidney Poitier (John Wade Prentice), Katharine Hepburn (Christina Drayton), Katharine Houghton (Joanna "Joey" Drayton), Cecil Kelloway (Monsignor Mike Ryan), Beah Richards (Mrs. Prentice), Roy E. Glenn Sr. (Mr. Prentice), Isabel Sanford (Matilda "Tillie" Binks), Virginia Christine (Hilary St. George), Alexandra Hay (Carhop), Barbara Randolph (Dorothy), D'Urville Martin (Frankie), Tom Heaton (Peter), Grace Gaynor (Judith), Skip Martin (Delivery Boy)

Buy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

1967 was a landmark year for cinema. Bonnie and Clyde ushered in a new era of unflinching violence, while The Graduate essentially introduced the modern film as we know it.
'67 was also a banner year for Sidney Poitier. The trail-blazing African-American who had won the Best Actor Oscar for 1963's Lilies of the Field starred in three of the most popular movies released that year, each tackling race at a time when Civil Rights Movement was at full force.

First came To Sir, with Love, a drama in which Poitier played a teacher who single-handedly reformed a class full of Cockney hooligans. Two months later, in August, Poitier starred in the southern murder mystery In the Heat of the Night, which would go on to win Best Picture at the 40th Academy Awards. To do so, it would have to defeat the two most nominated films of the year, Bonnie and Clyde and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, starring -- you guessed it -- Poitier alongside Hollywood heavyweights Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Poitier plays John Wade Prentice, a doctor as educated, respected, and worldly as any. The 37-year-old widower first met Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton, Hepburn's real-life niece), 23, in Hawaii ten days ago. The two have fallen quickly in love and are prepared to be married in Geneva, where work is soon to take John. The couple surprises Joanna's parents Matt (Tracy) and Christina (Hepburn) with an unannounced visit to their San Francisco mansion. The Draytons are blindsided by the drop-in and despite John's professional success, they are most stricken by the fact that their daughter is in love with "a Negro."

John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) and Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton) are in love and ready to marry in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

Progressive lifelong liberals Matt and Christina have an opportunity to practice what they preach as far as racial equality goes. Rather than warmly embrace John, though, the situation awakens some latent racism within them and has them wondering how they can in good conscience withhold the approval their daughter and her beau seek. In private, John tells them he won't marry Joey without their blessing, increasing the weight of the of their decision. This spontaneous dinner gathering grows to include John's parents (Roy Glenn and Beach Richards) and, as impartial advisor, Matt's golfing buddy, the Catholic priest Monsignor Ryan (Cecil Kellaway).

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was daring for its time. It was still rare to encounter African-Americans in movies back then. Poitier was one of just five black actors to be nominated in a competitive Oscar category; three of them had vied for a Supporting Actress honor that only Gone with the Wind's Hattie McDaniel had ever won. This wasn't just about Poitier holding a leading role or sharing the screen with Old Hollywood legends. It was an extended discussion of a topical social issue, using the prospect of an interracial marriage to wax philosophic on race.

To its benefit, Guess isn't as heavy-handed and one-sided as some other tales of racism. John's parents are just as disapproving of the marriage as Joey's are and the most outspoken critic of the union is the Drayton's black housekeeper Tillie (Isabel Sanford, soon to play "The Jeffersons" matriarch Weezy). While timely social relevance can raise the immediate profile of a film, as it did here, it can also leave the same film looking more dated than its contemporaries.

Racism is no relic of the past and the possibility of a mixed-race marriage would still throw many a family into crisis mode. Still, Guess is remarkably dated as it tries to debate these issues with a level head and a noble heart. The movie, whose single-day design stretches logic with its characters' malleable, spontaneous flight schedules, unfolds with a lot of talking. Virtually every two characters introduced share a conversation on the subject. Each is passionate and reasoned (well or not). We get the kind of monologues actors love and William Rose's original screenplay ended up winning one of the film's two Oscars from its ten nominations.

Lifelong liberals Christina (Katharine Hepburn) and Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) find it challenging to finally practice what they preach regarding racial equality when their daughter wants to marry a Negro man.

The last and biggest monologue comes from Tracy in his final film role. Severely ill for a number of years with heart disease, diabetes, and pulmonary edema,
Tracy took this job and completed filming just seventeen days before dying of a heart attack, six months prior to release. Those circumstances give Tracy's involvement greater meaning, turning this film as something of his final message to the world. He was posthumously nominated by the Academy for Best Actor, which he lost to Poitier's Heat co-star Rod Steiger while Tracy's longtime partner and co-star Hepburn won the Lead Actress award.

Guess feels like a play. Its occasional, unexpectedly nimble camera move and few departures from the Draytons' house seem quite deliberate. One such departure -- Matt and Christina's trip to an ice cream drive-in joint, a comic excursion that ends in an interracial car crash -- is forced and outlandish. But the movie's heart -- those pontifications on love and race -- is in the right place and you can't fault the film simply for not aging as gracefully as you'd like.

The Academy doesn't always get it right, but by honoring In the Heat of the Night, they did at least reward the best Poitier film of the year and one that holds up as well as The Graduate. As the final pairing of Tracy and Hepburn and one with an admirable message of tolerance, this film will always hold a special place in Hollywood history, even if the years render it a tad melodramatic or tame (how could anyone object to a smart, articulate son-in-law played by the universally beloved Poitier?).

Guess made the American Film Institute's original 100 Years...100 Films list in 1998, but dropped off in the 2007 revote (which the more deserving In the Heat of the Night did make). The film might just be the most significant one yet to reach Blu-ray from Twilight Time, the boutique label that has licensed the title from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in their Limited Edition Series' usual low run of 3,000 units.

To Sir, with Love: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Marketplace Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
2.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (Music and Effects Track)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 11, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Clear Keepcase
Still available as 40th Anniversary Edition DVD ($14.99 SRP; February 12, 2008) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as DVD (December 2, 2004)


Guess Who's Coming to Dinner looks great on Blu-ray, which will come as a surprise only to those not yet acquainted with Twilight Time. The little company has repeatedly put out pleasing transfers and this is no exception, with the nearly 50-year-old film looking practically brand new in terms of a sharp and pristine element. You can tell some soft lighting has obviously been employed on Hepburn, who doesn't look bad for a late-'60s sexagenarian. There's a little more grain to those shots and certain others, but the 1.85:1 presentation largely delights, even when you ignore the film's considerable age.

Contrary to the case's listing, the monaural soundtrack is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD master audio. It's a fine soundtrack which keeps the film-driving dialogue crisp and intelligible throughout.

Steven Spielberg is one of four people introducing you to the film for its 40th anniversary. From his colorful workplace, news anchor Tom Brokaw discusses the film that cost him his movie theater job.


The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo. Each is knowledgeable and articulate, giving us a flowing screen-specific conversation full of facts regarding the film's conception, production, and mixed reception.
They cover topics big (critics and young people's problems with the film), medium (an edit made following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination) and small (did Tracy really have frames in his glasses?). Short of Poitier joining these men to revisit the film, an unlikely prospect given the fact he's approaching 90, this is the most satisfying track you could imagine.

As usual, Twilight Time also equips the Blu-ray with an isolated score track. This is truly an isolated score, meaning we get (Frank) DeVol's instrumentation, but not the lyrics to the oft-reprised, decidedly not original theme song, "The Glory of Love" (which you'll recognize for Dean Martin and other's incarnations). Bravo to you if you have the interest to watch the entire film this way. I'm not even sure Twilight Time expects you to, but they seem to be okay with treating isolated score as a standard inclusion (while other studios almost never offer it).

On the video side, where impressively everything is encoded in HD (though little of it looks to have been shot in it), we begin with four short introductions to the film evidently recorded in 2007 for Sony's 40th Anniversary Edition DVD. Stanley Kramer's widow Karen (2:44) focuses on the historic significance of the content, Steven Spielberg (1:07) celebrates Mr. Kramer, Tom Brokaw (2:46) considers Kramer's body of work, and Quincy Jones (2:50) focuses on Poitier's involvement and the social ramifications.

Katharine Houghton recalls her feature film debut in "A Love Story of Today." Dick Van Dyke voices admiration for Stanley Kramer, who directed him in the little-known 1979 drama "The Runner Stumbles."

Next up are three newish featurettes, produced in 2007.

"A Love Story of Today" (29:53) is a thorough retrospective. Looking back at the film are a bunch of people involved in its making, including Katharine Houghton, Karen Kramer, Sidney Poitier's agent Martin Baum, editor Robert Jones, and script supervisor Marshall Schlom. Also lending their voices are a bunch of people who were not directly involved, including Garry Marshall, Louis Gossett Jr., Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern, and educator Salome Thomas-El. The thoughtful base-covering reflections of both types of subjects are complemented by fitting photos and clips, including an excerpt of a 1978 Stanley Kramer interview.

"A Special Kind of Love" (17:15) considers Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, with Houghton and others reflecting on the long relationship then in its twilight.

"Stanley Kramer: A Man's Search for Truth" (16:57) celebrates the director's body of work, with clips from his films complemented by remarks from famous admirers, including Dick Van Dyke, Beau Bridges, Dennis Hopper, Alec Baldwin, Norman Jewison, Taylor Hackford, and a number of the other pieces' interview subjects. The film clips are sullied by absurd availability notices, but that's not enough to diminish this fine survey of Kramer's career.

Stanley Kramer quickly and humbly accepts the Irving Thalberg Award at the 1962 Academy Awards. Former VP Al Gore accepts the Stanley Kramer Award at the 2007 Producers Guild Awards. Ding dong! A finger rings a doorbell in both original trailers for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

Two award acceptance videos follow. Stanley Kramer accepts the Irving Thalberg Award (2:01) at the 1962 Academy Awards with a brief speech about the periodical honorary Oscar's namesake.

Then, Al Gore (4:37) receives the Stanley Kramer Award for An Inconvenient Truth from Harrison Ford at the 2007 Producers Guild Awards, an honor put into context by Karen Kramer.

Finally, we get Guess Who's Coming to Dinner's original theatrical trailer (2:37) and a teaser trailer (1:04) billed as "a special announcement about a very special film", each presented in HD. No trailers for or mention of 2005's remake Guess Who starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac are included, which might be for the best.

In true Twilight Time fashion, the silent, static menu adapts the cover art. The menus include a navigable gallery of the company's complete Blu-ray catalog, divided by year.

As usual, the final component of a Twilight Time Blu-ray to discuss is the essay booklet that's found inside of the clear keepcase, which displays artwork on both sides of the cover. Resident historian Julie Kirgo, which celebrates the film as the product of an idealist director (Stanley Kramer), a comic screenwriter (William Rose), and a cast that included the charming actor soon to be the planet's most popular star (Poitier) and an aging legend whose inability to pass an insurance physical (Tracy) required some financing tricks from others. She also makes a very astute connection between this film's young couple and the heritage of Barack Obama.

Quigley's #1 movie star of 1968, Sidney Poitier, shares an outdoor scene with 1940's #2 movie star, Spencer Tracy, in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."


Landmark masterpiece? Hopelessly dated relic? Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a little bit of both. Its progressive story strikes one as ridiculous today, but its heart is in the right place and director Stanley Kramer and these legendary actors all commit to the material wholeheartedly. This single-day, mostly single-setting human tale is easy to watch and enjoy. It may not look like some great artistic achievement of cinema or controversial in the slightest, but the significance stands and the movie retains some power because of it.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray is about what you would expect and hope for. The dazzling feature presentation, substantial new audio commentary, and over an hour of video extras recycled from the DVD era all add up to a special hi-def release of a film that remains important nearly fifty years later.

Buy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
Sidney Poitier: To Sir, with Love | Directed by Stanley Kramer: Ship of Fools
Cecil Kellaway: I Married a Witch The Shaggy Dog The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin Easy to Wed
Beah Richards: Mahogany The Biscuit Eater | Isabel Sanford: All in the Family: The Complete Series
Late 1960s: The Jungle Book The Odd Couple 2001: A Space Odyssey The Happiest Millionaire
1960s Best Picture Nominees: The Graduate Funny Girl A Thousand Clowns Oliver! Mary Poppins

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Reviewed August 22, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1967 Columbia Pictures and 2015 Twilight Time and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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