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Film / Woman of the Year

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A 1942 Romantic Comedy / Dramedy movie directed by George Stevens, notable in part for being the first onscreen pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. It won an Academy Award for screenwriters Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr.; in addition, Hepburn was nominated for Best Actress.

Sam Craig (Tracy) and Tess Harding (Hepburn) both write for the same newspaper, the fictional New York Chronicle—he as a sportswriter, she as a high-powered political analyst. A feud in their columns erupts over baseball, leading their editor (Reginald Owen) to summon them to his office and order them to stop their intramural squabbling. Sam is immediately impressed when he catches the attractive Tess adjusting her stockings, and she is equally attracted to him. He invites her to go to a baseball game with him, and they have a wonderful time.

Despite the wide differences in their lives and personalities, Sam and Tess fall in love and decide to marry. After a hurried wedding squeezed into Tess's hectic schedule, Sam moves into her apartment. Over the next few months, they have several minor disagreements about not being together enough, but they are still very much in love.

A bigger problem occurs when Tess volunteers to take on the care of Chris, a Greek refugee child, without consulting Sam. Though Sam likes the boy, he is angry and criticizes Tess for not giving even "ten percent" of her heart to matters at home. Their argument is interrupted by the news that she has just been named "America's Outstanding Woman of the Year." On the night of the banquet, Sam realizes that Chris is very lonely and misses his friends at the refugee home. When Tess off-handedly tells Sam that the child will be alone during the banquet, they have a bitter argument, and Sam stays home. While Tess is at her ceremony, Sam returns Chris to the refugee home and walks out on Tess.

The next day, Tess attends the wedding of her widowed father and her maternal aunt, who was also her feminist mentor. While listening to the wedding vows, Tess is deeply moved and realizes that she has neglected Sam. She finds the apartment he has rented, bluffs her way inside, and tries to cook breakfast for him. She proclaims her intention of being nothing more than his wife and thinking only of his domestic needs, but he believes it is an insincere tactic to win him back. Her effort ends in Epic Fail when the coffeepot and waffle iron both overflow, and she breaks down. Sam tells her this is the first time he has ever been disappointed in her, chiding her for going to extremes. He says he does not want Tess Harding (the busy single woman with no time for him) or "just Mrs. Craig," but instead "Tess Harding Craig." Tess happily agrees, and they reconcile.

A musical Screen-to-Stage Adaptation with a score by Kander and Ebb, starring Lauren Bacall as Tess, opened on Broadway in 1981.

Woman of the Year provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Altar the Speed: When he calls his mother tell her about the engagement, Sam clearly assumes the wedding is weeks, if not months, away. He is stunned to find that Tess has arranged for it to take place in mere days.
  • Break the Haughty: Supposedly, the women of the audience didn't like the original ending (see Trivia page for details) because they found Tess too intimidating and wanted to see her taken down a peg; so the Revised Ending, where she proved to be incompetent in the kitchen, was shot.
  • Breakup Makeup Scenario: The last half-hour or so of the movie is this, from Tess's point of view.
  • Epic Fail: Tess's attempt to cook breakfast for Sam.
  • Leg Focus: Sam's first view of Tess is of her shapely leg as she adjusts her stocking. He's impressed.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Tess isn't traditionally feminine, so "of course" she has no idea what to do in a kitchen.
  • Fictional Document: The New York Chronicle.
  • The Maiden Name Debate: Symbolic of the central conflict of the story. Even after their marriage, Tess is still referred to as "Miss Harding." (Presumably she keeps her maiden name for professional purposes, but it also symbolizes the way she continues to live her life the way she did when she was single.) Sam proposes that she learn to find a balance between being Miss Harding and Mrs. Craig.
  • Married to the Job: Tess and Sam's marriage suffers largely because Tess doesn't cut back on her extremely demanding work schedule after they are married, or even after Tess agrees to care for Chris.
  • Mistaken for Pregnant: When Tess tries to break the news about adopting Chris, Sam thinks she's hinting that she's pregnant.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The character of Sam Craig was probably based on Ring Lardner, Sr. (father of co-screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr.), who was a nationally syndicated sportswriter and also a writer of short stories.
    • Tess was based on journalist and radio commentator Dorothy Thompson. In 1939, TIME Magazine named Thompson as the second-most respected woman in the US after Eleanor Roosevelt; in the movie, a character says of Tess, "Fadiman says she's number-two dame, next to Mrs. Roosevelt."
  • Omniglot: Tess converses in French, Spanish, Russian, German, and Greek during the film. She also apparently reads Chinese, as there is a Chinese newspaper in her office. Justified by the fact that her father is a diplomat, and Tess grew up traveling all over the world with him.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: See Mistaken for Pregnant.
  • Opposites Attract: The whole premise. Tess and Sam not only have different interests, but are from very different backgrounds as well. The trope is deconstructed by showing the realistic challenges of a marriage between two people with such great differences.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: Tess after Sam kisses her goodbye at the airport. She is clearly distracted when speaking to her aunt and secretary afterward, and she actually bumps into the door as she heads out toward the waiting plane.
  • Revised Ending: The film was previewed with a different ending, in which the couple attempt to reconcile by walking a mile in each other's shoes. In the original version, Sam disappears after returning Chris to the refugee home. Tess does her best to write his sports column in his absence, but when he finally shows up, he's shocked at her pick for the favorite in the upcoming boxing championship. It turns out that he's been taking French and Spanish lessons at a language school in the meantime. Tess then offers to change and become a stay-at-home wife, whereupon Sam tells her (as in the final version) that he doesn't want either extreme, just "Tess Harding Craig."
  • Workplace Romance: Tess and Sam work for the same newspaper, and several scenes between them take place in one or the other's office.