Adam and Amanda Bonner are wealthy married lawyers living in New York, he working for the district attorney's office and she working as a defense attorney. Adam gets assigned as prosecutor in the attempted-murder case of Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday), a housewife who followed her unfaithful husband to his mistress's apartment and shot him in the shoulder. Amanda, wishing to prove a point about feminism and the Double Standard, gets Doris to hire her as defense attorney, setting up the Bonners as opponents in court. This does great harm to their marriage.
One of nine films co-starring Tracy and Hepburn.
- Adam and/or Eve: Obvious symbolism in naming the male lead in a battle-of-the-sexes comedy "Adam".
- Angrish: Adam tends to transpose words or invert the pronunciation of words when frustrated or upset.
- Ate His Gun: Subverted. Adam puts a gun he had trained on his wife and the man who was in love with her in his mouth... and quite literally bites the barrel, revealing that it's made of licorice.
- Back-to-Back Poster: The poster features popular acting duo Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, as they play married lawyers who end up facing off against each other in the courtroom. While both are smiling on the poster, their determination is reflected in their arms crossed over their chests.
- Big Eater: Doris.Amanda: And after you shot your husband...how did you feel?
- Both Sides Have a Point: Pretty much the entire concept of the trial with Adam and Amanda Bonner. Amanda represents Doris, a woman who nearly murdered her husband, claiming that if the sex of the parties on trial were switched, the jury would feel differently. While Adam grows upset with Amanda accusing her with disregard for the law, reminding her that no one, man or woman, has the right to take the law into their own hands, and that Amanda is using the case for her own selfish purposes. Neither side is technically wrong with their arguments.
- Chewbacca Defense: Amanda's argument doesn't contest the facts of the case or Doris's obvious guilt, simply that Doris should get off with attempted premeditated murder because a man would under similar circumstances, and so her entire strategy is to prove that men and women are equal — mostly irrelevant to the matter at hand, but, more importantly, funny. She had dozens of surprise testifiers for the accomplishments of women ready to go before the court urged her to cut it down to three.
- Conversation Cut: Adam is interviewing Tom and getting some basic facts. His question "Occupation?" leads smoothly into a cut and Doris saying "none", with Amanda correcting her and saying "housewife".
- Courtroom Antics: Amanda's various courtroom stunts culminate in getting a strongwoman to lift Adam.
- Crocodile Tears: The marriage is saved when Adam cries, prompting Amanda to become sympathetic and ignore their differences. Soon he reveals that he was crying on purpose, and makes a point of the fact that it's not just women who are capable of that kind of emotional manipulation.
- Death by Woman Scorned: Doris shoots Tom after catching him with another woman. She doesn't kill him, though.
- Domestic Abuse: Part of the deeply dysfuctional relationship between Doris and Tom. Doris says that Tom once knocked one of her teeth out, and that she knew he was having an affair when he stopped hitting her. Tom says Doris hit him as well, and had a habit of punching him while he slept.
- Double Standard: Amanda goes on a crusade about the Double Standard that holds a husband cheating as no big deal while a wife cheating is unforgivable, specifically to convince the jury that they should give Doris the same amount of sympathy for attacking her husband that they would give him if Doris had been the adulterer.
- Dramatic Drop: Adam drops a whole tray of cocktails when he finds out that Amanda's going up against him in court.
- Effortless Amazonian Lift: As part of her defense strategy to show that women are like men so they should be treated the same, Amanda calls a circus strongwoman to the stand. The strongwoman demonstrates that women can be as strong as men by picking up Adam. Adam is enraged and humiliated.
- Hollywood Law: The judge makes Lance Ito look like a stern model of jurisprudence, with his decision to tolerate Amanda's ridiculous defense of calling in random women to demonstrate how women are equal to men; while he sometimes scolds Adam and Amanda for turning the proceedings into a circus, not one mention of contempt of court. It's also not very likely that married couples would be allowed to represent opposite sides of a criminal case. Further, pointing out the hypocrisy regarding men getting off for shooting their cheating wives vs the opposite not being true, while a valid point, is not really a defense to attempted murder. Her client did it, even if sympathetic, and she's essentially trying to get jury nullification. This isn't allowed to argue for.
- Leave the Camera Running: Features several long shots taken with a static camera. In one scene, when Adam and Amanda are getting ready for a dinner party, the camera remains stationary while they pop in and out of frame, including one instance when both of them are out of frame. The scene where Amanda interviews Doris is also a long static shot.
- Mars and Venus Gender Contrast: As symbolized by differing views on the Double Standard and the justifiability of shooting a cheating partner.
- The Mistress: Beryl for Tom, even if you believe Beryl's claim that their romantic rendezvous was the first one.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Amanda takes the "he had it coming" view in regards to Doris shooting Tom.
- Shaped Like ItselfBeryl: And then I heard a noise.
Adam What kind of noise?
Beryl: Like a sound.
- Straw Feminist: The film stacks the deck against Amanda throughout. She takes the case in part to irritate her husband. She gives the fancy hat he gave her to Doris to use as a courtroom prop. She pulls stunts and embarrasses him in court. She overreacts when he gives her a smack on the butt during a massage. She's the one who flirts with cheating. And Adam proves her OK-to-shoot-cheating-partner posturing hollow when he pulls his stunt with the licorice gun (see below).
- Straw Hypocrite: Besides Amanda and her obvious double standards, there's also Adam, who argues off the stand that men and women are (and should be) fundamentally different, but is just as willing to use stereotypically feminine emotional manipulation — like tantrums, walking out of the apartment, and turning on the waterworks — to get his way, and owns up to it as well.
- Title In: Uses some fancier-than-usual intertitle cards. "That Evening" is the most common caption.
- Weapon for Intimidation: Adam bursts in on Amanda and Kip, brandishing a gun. After a terrified Amanda screams "You have no right to do this!", Adam sticks the gun in his mouth...and takes a bite. It's made of licorice.
- Women Drivers: Played with. Amanda is driving down a busy street and arguing heatedly with her husband about the Double Standard, and suddenly pulls over in front of a cabbie who grumbles about "lady drivers."
- Worst News Judgment Ever: Sure, a trial like this would probably be news, but not that big—one newspaper gives up the whole front page to reporting the trial.
- You're Cute When You're Angry: Adam Bonner is telling his wife over the phone that he's been assigned to prosecute Doris Attinger for shooting her husband:Adam: The boss wants a quick conviction, and I'm just the little guy who can get it for him—so he says.
Amanda: You great big he-men make me sick!
Amanda: An outrage, that's what I think!
Adam: You're getting awful dramatic...
Amanda: Why, why, what's so funny?
Adam: Ha, ha, ha—nothing. You just sound cute when you get cause-y.
Amanda: Oh— (hangs up)