Pat and Mike [50 Films Older Than Me #20]

Over six months ago, it was my birthday! And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which came out in each year of the fifty years before I was born, and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #20. So, that’s 20 movies out of 50 in somewhat over 50% of the year, which just goes to show how far behind I am with all this.

Spoilers ahead.  

Pat and Mike

Directed by George Cukor

Release Year:  1952 (18 years before I was born).

What it is about:  Pat Pemberton is a gifted athlete who finds she chokes whenever her fiance is watching her. She gains the attention of sports promoter Mike Conavan, who attempts to build her confidence and protect her so she can be a champion. Pat and Mike finds themselves attracted to each other even while they are dealing with problems caused by Mike’s somewhat crooked business colleagues.

Starring Katharine Hepburn as Pat Pemberton and Spencer Tracy as Mike Conavan.

Aldo Ray is a boxer who is also promoted by Conavan and William Ching is Collier (Pat’s fiancé). Charles Bronson appears as one of Mike’s crooked contacts, though he’s credited as Charles Buchinsky. Chuck Conners, Jim Backus and Carl Switzer (Alfalfa from Our Gang) all appear in small roles. A number of real life athletes appear as themselves, most notably Babe Zaharias, a famous golfer whom Pat faces off with in a game that makes up an extended sequence in the movie.

The movie is co-written by Garson Kanin and actress Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude)

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I knew Pat and Mike was a romantic comedy and I was pretty sure that Hepburn played a tennis player.

Reality: The movie actually starts with Hepburn playing a golf player, so I thought I was mistaken at first. But as the story progresses it turns out she’s a bit of an all-rounder athlete, so she certainly does play tennis.

OK, let’s get something clear right here at the beginning: Pat and Mike is a good movie. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are both charming and talented, and there are some good laughs through the movie. Plus, there are some good scenes of golf and tennis (to my untrained eye). I saw all this because I was nearly done with this article when I realized I was being pretty negative about the movie. There is a lot that wasn’t perfect for me, but I don’t want to give the impression that I thought the movie was bad. It’s just that I went into it expecting a lot and maybe as a result of that I was a bit disappointed. I remember really liking both Adam’s Rib and Desk Set (both also starring Hepburn and Tracy), so I thought I would love this one in the same way–but truth be told I have an impression of what I thought of those films more than I remember the movies themselves, so maybe I’m just confused.

I think a big part of the challenge for me is that movie never fully got me on Spencer Tracy’s side. His character, Mike Conavan, clearly has his charm, and you know as soon as you see their names on the marquis that Hepburn and Tracy are going to end up together, but I think the movie needed to a moment of greater warmth or vulnerability to make me believe that Pat Pemberton would fall in love with the guy. Clearly, the intentions are there but I wish the story had taken things a step further.

Maybe there would have been more time for that if the movie hadn’t taken so long to get things started. First there is an awful lot of setting up Pat’s relationship with Collier while also having her discover that he natural athletic ability is enough to really take her places. Then she’s got to become a pretty successful golfer (almost beating Babe Zaharias!) before finally getting her to make her big move and jump off the train to pursue her potential as sports star. It’s not that any of that material is bad necessarily (and the scene where she gets off the train is great), but there is just a lot of it to get us to what the movie is really about, which is her and Mike working together.

Maybe if it had just condensed some of that there would have been more time to develop her relationship with Mike a bit more, and indeed dive into the world of sports promotion a little deeper, which would have been interesting. It would have been good, for instance, to integrate Mike’s relationship with the boxer that he also manages (played amusingly by Aldo Ray) more tightly with the rest of the story.

There are also some very extreme comedic moments which came across silly and dated more than anything. The bit where Mike sees Pat’s face in his horse, or where Pat experiences a surreal nightmare of a tennis game because her fiancé is watching her took me out of the picture, which was obviously not the intention.

But like I said it’s not that Pat and Mike is a bad movie, but any means. The movie has a snappy pace and a lot of energy, and both Tracy and Hepburn are fun to watch once we get past the ludicrous way they meet (Tracy just breaks into her apartment and tries to convince her to “take a dive”, and the whole thing is not treated as incredibly threatening).

There is an outstanding scene toward the end where Pat defends Mike against some of shady business cohorts, and then a humiliated Mike has to have the whole thing recounted to the police.

And then the movie concludes with a nice bit where Mike’s sports-managing mantra is used against him in the midst of a golf tournament, to talk about his and Pat’s newfound love. It’s sweet and funny, but just not quite earned by the story the film tells us about how they got there.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think? It’s a good movie, and one I enjoyed. I just didn’t unreservedly love it, which would have been nice.

See here for the Master List.

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