#637) The General (1926)

#637) The General (1926)

OR “Keaton’s Laws of Locomotion”

Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton

Written by Buckman and Keaton. Adapted by Al Boasberg and Charles Smith. Based on the book “The Great Locomotive Chase” by William Pittenger.

Class of 1989 

The Plot: Inspired by a real life event, “The General” centers around Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton), a Georgian engineer who loves his steam engine The General as much as he loves his sweetheart Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). When the Civil War breaks out, Johnnie is rejected by the Confederate Army, though due to a misunderstanding Annabelle thinks he never enlisted and refuses to see him anymore. In 1862, a group of Union soldiers hijack The General, with Annabelle taken hostage onboard. Johnnie pursues the soldiers on another train, with the chase leading him behind enemy lines. Only Johnnie and his set of iconic pratfalls can save them now!

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it Keaton’s “most memorable film”, detailing its rocky production and initial negative reception, though states the film is “now considered a classic of comedic understatement”.

But Does It Really?: If you were forced to only have one Buster Keaton movie on this list, “The General” is the natural choice. We’ve covered almost all of the Keaton on this list, and “The General” brings all of his skills together in one movie: his inventive gags, his impressive stuntwork, his flawless timing, all in his most ambitious film. There is plenty of room for Keaton’s filmography on the NFR, but “The General” is the total package, and a great encapsulation of one of filmdom’s greatest artists.

Wow, That’s Dated: The good news: despite being set during The Civil War, “The General” does not feature any negative stereotypes of African-Americans and makes no reference to slavery. The bad news: Because of this, the film has been criticized for promoting the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, in which the Confederate succession had nothing to do with slavery and more with subjective values like honor and chivalry. It’s the kind of revisionist history that I assume is still popular in some the internet’s more dubious corners.

Title Track: I have somehow gone the entire run of this blog without knowing that The General in “The General” is the train. Not only that, but The General was the name of the actual train that was stolen in the real-life event. Keaton attempted to get the real General for his film, but the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway denied access once they learned that the film was a comedy.

Other notes 

  • William Pittenger was one of the Union soldiers who stole The General, and while many of his co-conspirators were caught and hanged, Pittenger survived and eventually recounted his experience in the 1889 memoir “The Great Train Robbery”. 35 years later, Clyde Bruckman brought this story to the attention of his collaborator (and train enthusiast) Buster Keaton, who immediately saw the potential of a film version. According to Keaton biographer Marion Meade, Keaton changed the film’s protagonist to the Southern engineer because he didn’t think an audience would accept the Confederates as the bad guys (which….huh).
  • “The General” received the then unheard of budget of $400,000 (roughly 6.8 million today). It helps that the head of United Artists at the time was Joseph Schenck, the former head of Buster Keaton Productions. The film’s production lasted throughout the summer of 1926, and was troubled to say the least. Many cast and crew members (including Keaton) suffered physical injuries, and the budget ballooned upwards of $750,000 (some sources even saying $1,000,000). In addition to the metaphorical fires Keaton and his crew put out, there were also the frequent literal fires caused by the trains’ wood-burning engines and their proximity to trees and haystacks.
  • I was all ready to subtitle this post “Union Buster” only to realize that a) Keaton’s character is on the Confederate side and b) I already used that subtitle on my “Outlaw Josey Wales” post. There are only so many Civil War-based puns.
  • One of the Confederate generals (the one who kinda looks like the Wizard of Oz) is played by Keaton regular Frederick Vroom. That name again: Frederick Vroom.
  • My first legitimate LOL of the film came when Johnnie gets rejected by the Confederate army: “If you lose this war, don’t blame me.”
  • The film’s first iconic shot comes when Johnnie, dejected from his encounter with Annabelle, unknowingly sits on a nearby train’s coupling rods, and remains seated even when the train takes off and the rods start moving. Just one of those perfect film moments that epitomizes the silent era: it’s visually impressive and you know it will never be replicated again.
  • Once we get to the actual train chases the film (forgive me) really picks up steam. It’s all so wildly inventive. I especially enjoyed the scene of Johnnie trying to fire a cannon at the soldiers, with hilarious results. All I could think was “How did he do that?”
  • The film’s other iconic moment: Johnnie sitting on the train’s cowcatcher, quickly removing lumber from the track to prevent derailment. As with all of Keaton’s stunt work, you marvel at a man doing all of these stunts in real time. No double, no green screen, just a comic genius who can somehow control the timing of everything around him, even the movement of the lumber. Given the degree of difficulty, I have dubbed Buster Keaton “Silent Film’s Greatest Insurance Risk”.
  • One thing I noticed about Buster Keaton in this film: He’s so handsome. Keaton would have been 31 when he filmed “The General”, and he has a very youthful, almost Roman look about him. Maybe it’s the combination of more close-ups and the restored print I was watching that made me notice that the Great Stoneface is actually quite the looker.
  • I was not expecting this movie to have a bear in it, and definitely not expecting any character to get caught in a bear trap. Somehow Annabelle survives this without needing her leg amputated.
  • Almost immediately after the bear trap scene, Annabelle spends an entire sequence trapped inside a burlap bag. And who says there aren’t any good parts for women?
  • Not to overanalyze why Keaton’s comedy works, but for me it’s the little moves: the glances, the hesitations, the extra half-steps that Keaton’s characters all tend to have. Obviously these moves are part of his films’ overall choreography, but these details add some realism to the absurdity, as if Keaton’s character is an innocent bystander who somehow found himself in a silent movie.
  • Once we got to the train riding past a water tank, I was ready for the iconic sequence where Keaton runs atop the train cars and dangles on the water spout. And then I remembered that that sequence isn’t in this movie: it’s in “Sherlock Jr.”, which I’ve already covered for this blog. Man these movies bleed together after a while.
  • The finale isn’t the funniest scene in the movie (even critics at the time found it a tad too dark), but you do have to admire the scope of it. I mean come on, Keaton was blowing up bridges and crashing trains 30 years before “Bridge on the River Kwai“. Side note: that shot of the bridge exploding is said to have cost $42,000, allegedly making it the most expensive shot in silent film history.
  • The climax may have been disappointing, but at least the film ends with a solid gag, where the recently promoted Lt. Johnnie kisses Annabelle while simultaneously saluting each passing soldier. Good stuff.


  • “The General” is one of the few classic films on this list that started out as both a critical and financial failure. Critics felt the film didn’t live us to Keaton’s standards, with the New York Herald Tribune calling it “the least-funny thing Buster Keaton has every done.” While the film did okay financially, it did not come close to recouping its budget. Due to the film’s perceived failure, Keaton lost a lot of his creative control, ultimately leaving United Artists for MGM, a move that gave him even less creative freedom. Despite the bad breaks, Keaton stood by “The General”, and considered it the best film he ever made.
  • Reevaluation of “The General” started happening in the 1950s, when actor James Mason bought Buster Keaton’s former house in Los Angeles and found a print of the film (then presumed lost or destroyed) in a walled-up section that used to be Keaton’s projection room. A few years after the film’s rediscovery, “The General” lapsed into public domain, therefore making it free to air on TV and reaching a wider audience. Keaton lived long enough to see his work be rediscovered, and “The General” received a successful re-release in the 1960s.
  • “The Great Locomotive Chase” was adapted for the screen again as the 1956 Disney drama of the same name starring Fess Parker. Unlike Keaton’s adaptation, this version skews closer to the source material, with the Union soldiers once again serving as protagonists.
  • As for the train itself: The General was retired in 1891 after 35 years of service. The engine of The General has been displayed many places over the last century, including both the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s Fair. For the last 50 years, The General has resided at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia.

I Made a Film!

Hello Readers,

You may have noticed that posts have been few and far between these days. There are a number of reasons for that, mostly real-world stuff I won’t get into here. But one of those reasons is worth sharing with all of you: I made a film!

I’ve spent the better part of the last year co-directing and editing “Test Room D”, a short film based on a play I was lucky to direct a few years back. It was quite the experience trying to direct a film after spending the last six years watching some of the greatest movies of all time, but I’m happy with the results. Take a look if you want to know if I can truly practice what I preach, and to see the talented group of creatives I surrounded myself with.

Happy Viewing,


#636) Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

#636) Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

OR “No Way, José”

Directed by Michael Gordon

Written by Carl Foreman. Based on the play by Edmond Rostand. English translation by Brian Hooker.

Class of 2022

The Plot: José Ferrer is Cyrano de Bergerac, the 17th century Frenchman as famous for his cunning wit and expert swordsmanship as for his unusually large nose. Despite his outwardly confident personality, his nose causes him a lot of self doubt, especially in his desire to woo his cousin, the beautiful Roxane (Mala Powers). When Roxane confides in Cyrano that she has a crush on his fellow cadet, the handsome Christian de Neuvillette (William Prince), Cyrano is secretly devastated but promises to protect him. While Christian is mutally attracted to Roxane, he lacks the poetry of words needed to woo her, and Cyrano begrudgingly agrees to help. As Christian and Roxane fall in love, the cadets are called to fight in the Thirty Years’ War. One of literature’s most famous love triangles is brought to the big screen, with only one side of that triangle truly delivering.

Why It Matters: Although the NFR admits that the film suffers from “appearing too much [like] a stage production”, they praise Ferrer’s “star-making” turn as Cyrano, and give the film’s Oscar stats. The second half of their write-up is a shoutout to UCLA alum Myra Teitelbaum Reinhard, who funded this film’s restoration.

But Does It Really?: Hmmm…I don’t know. The NFR is big on this film’s status as the first English language film adaptation of the Rostand play, as well as José Ferrer’s barrier-breaking Oscar win (more on that later). That being said, I don’t think that’s enough to warrant NFR induction. The film itself lives and dies on Ferrer’s performance. His Cyrano is worth the price of admission, but the rest of the film just sits there, with no other elements rising to Ferrer’s level. I first saw this version of “Cyrano de Bergerac” in my freshman English class, and while I found the film more entertaining on this rewatch, its induction into the NFR is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Title Track: Shout out to the real life Cyrano de Bergerac who, like his fictionalized counterpart, was a playwright and duelist who served in the 1640 Siege of Arras. To the best of my knowledge, he didn’t have any romantic feelings for his cousin, though according to a portrait drawn by his contemporary Zacharie Heince, he did have a larger-than-average nose.

Seriously, Oscars?: Despite mixed reception from critics and audiences, “Cyrano de Bergerac” received one Oscar nomination for José Ferrer’s performance. Facing such competition as William Holden in “Sunset Boulevard“, Spencer Tracy in “Father of the Bride”, and James Stewart in “Harvey”, Ferrer won the prize, becoming the first Hispanic and Puerto-Rican born actor to win the Best Actor Oscar. Ferrer was in the midst of being subpoenaed by HUAC during his Oscar campaigning, something he alludes to in his acceptance speech, calling this win “a vote of confidence and an act of faith”. Shortly after Ferrer’s win, he was cleared of any ties to Communism and avoided the blacklist.

Other notes 

  • Upon its debut in Paris in December 1897, Edmond Rostand’s play “Cyrano de Bergerac” was an immediate success and became a staple of theater troupes around the world. In 1923, American actor Walter Hampden commissioned playwright Brian Hooker to pen a new English translation of the play, with their subsequent production still holding the record for the show’s longest Broadway run. The Hooker translation was revived on Broadway in 1946, with José Ferrer playing Cyrano and winning the very first Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play. The film rights to the Hooker adaptation were initially owned by Sir Alexander Korda, who wanted to make a film version with Orson Welles, but at some point Korda sold the rights to producer Stanley Kramer for $40,000. Kramer was unsure of the film’s box office potential, so he purposefully kept the costs down; the script was condensed to run under two hours, and the whole film was shot on a Hollywood soundstage (giving the film its “stagy” aesthetic).
  • Shoutout to George Glass: this film’s associate producer, Stanley Kramer’s longtime collaborator, and Jan Brady’s imaginary boyfriend.
  • Yeah, this movie belongs to José Ferrer and no one else. His Cyrano has the flourish and panache you would expect on the stage, but Ferrer can reign it in for the camera when the more dramatic scenes call for it. It’s the last stand for the kind of theatrical screen acting that “The Method” would deem extinct within a few years. I also love the cadence of his voice (the superlative “sonorous” crops up in a lot of reviews), and these fun little gesticulations he does with his hands; it’s like Cyrano is conducting the world around him.
  • But of course, I can’t praise Ferrer’s performance without acknowledging his prosthetic attribute. Shoutout to makeup creators Gustaf & Josef Norin for their work on The Nose. It’s just large enough to be conspicuous but not enough to be unrealistic. Plus, the blending job holds up on an HD screen! Take that, Nicole Kidman in “The Hours”! Kramer and his company allegedly spent $1500 on the nose, roughly $19,000 today, and it’s worth every penny.
  • Cyrano’s introduction by disrupting a stage performance is proof that theater audiences have always been the worst. But hey, at least he’s not singing along to “The Bodyguard”. Side Note: The vendor that offers Cyrano food in this scene is Elena Verdugo, about 20 years away from her memorable work as Consuelo Lopez on “Marcus Welby, M.D.”.
  • Oh right, Roxane is Cyrano’s cousin, although later on he backpedals a bit and says she’s a “distant” cousin. Today on “Weird Things I Research for this Blog”, I learned that relationships between first cousins are still acceptable throughout Europe. In fact, the USA is the one of the few countries with laws that prohibit cousins from marrying, and even then that’s on a state-by-state basis. You can still marry your cousin in 26 states including…California? Really? Yikes, maybe we’re too liberal out here.
  • Clearly Cyrano and his friends all live in the French province of Sans Accent Francais.
  • I’m sorry but…this movie does not have a lot going for it, at least not as much as I expect from an NFR movie. If they only preserved Ferrer’s first few monologues, maybe I would understand the inclusion, but on the whole this movie is a slog. If you’re going to adapt a very text-heavy play to film, you have to have strong visuals and/or compelling actors, and outside of Ferrer this film is lacking on both fronts. No offense to Mala Powers, one of your standard ’50s ingenues, but her Roxane is not something to write home about. Hell, Roxanne from “A Goofy Movie” had more personality.
  • And here we get the second most famous balcony scene in all of world literature, with Cyrano feeding Christian lines to say as he woos Roxane. I always forget that Cyrano takes over at one point, which makes Roxane look really dumb for not noticing the switch. He doesn’t even try to change his voice!
  • William Prince kinda looks like Robert Vaughn if you squint a little. Also, as you can imagine, trying to do an internet search for “William Prince” can be a bit challenging if you’re looking for the actor and not any infinitely more famous royalty with the inverted name.
  • [Spoilers] Wow, I really don’t have a lot to say about this movie. If you can get past the whole cousin thing I guess it’s kinda romantic, but even José Ferrer can’t save this thing. Though Cyrano does quite literally die trying.


  • “Cyrano de Bergerac” opened in New York and Los Angeles in late 1950 to qualify for the Oscars, receiving a wider release after Ferrer won Best Actor. Stanley Kramer’s initial concerns proved correct, as “Cyrano” failed to make a profit at the box office. The film has continued to stick around in part due to lapsing into the public domain in the mid-1980s, therefore making it easier for video and streaming services to release the film.
  • Although Ferrer survived the blacklist, he still found difficulty working in Hollywood. After another Oscar-nominated turn in John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge”, Ferrer returned to the New York stage, at one point having four of his directing efforts playing on Broadway at the same time in May 1952!
  • Several other members of the “Cyrano” team ended up getting blacklisted, notably screenwriter Carl Foreman, director Michael Gordon, and actor Morris Carnovsky. Thankfully these three all lived long enough to survive the blacklist and continued to find work. Michael Gordon has one of his post-blacklist films on the NFR: 1959’s “Pillow Talk“.
  • Ferrer returned to the role of Cyrano a few more times, including a TV adaptation in 1955 (earning an Emmy nomination), the 1964 action mash-up “Cyrano and d’Artagnan”, and a 1974 animated “ABC Afterschool Specials” episode. His best remembered non-Cyrano work includes his pivotal cameo in “Lawrence of Arabia“, and playing the Emperor of the Universe in David Lynch’s “Dune”.
  • Other notable film Cyranos include a 1990 French version with Gerard Depardieu (also getting an Oscar nod for his performance), Steve Martin’s 1987 update “Roxanne”, and most recently a musical adaptation starring Peter Dinklage.
  • Fun Fact: Director Michael Gordon is the grandfather of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt! Equally Fun Fact: José is the father of actor Miguel Ferrer and the uncle of George Clooney (via his marriage to George’s Aunt Rosemary).

Bonus Clip: Because I love it so much, here’s Steve Martin’s version of the Nose monologue from “Roxanne”.

Listen to This: José Ferrer pops up on the National Recording Registry thanks to a recording of the 1943 Broadway production of “Othello”, playing Iago to Paul Robeson’s Othello, with Ferrer’s then-wife Uta Hagen as Desdemona. Apparently Cary O’Dell had the day off, because Lindsay R. Swindell Ph.D. has the honor of writing the NRR’s “Othello” essay.

Listen to This: The National Recording Registry Class of 2023

As I slowly wake up from my long winter’s nap, I am greeted with this year’s 25 inductees into the National Recording Registry. The Class of 2023 is listed below, with relevant links embedded wherever possible. There’s also this handy playlist that the NRR has put together.

  1. The Very First Mariachi Recordings” — Cuarteto Coculense (1908-1909) 
  2. St. Louis Blues” — Handy’s Memphis Blues Band (1922)
  3. Sugar Foot Stomp” — Fletcher Henderson (1926)
  4. Dorothy Thompson: Commentary and Analysis of the European Situation for NBC Radio (Aug. 23-Sept. 6, 1939) 
  5. Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around” — The Fairfield Four (1947)
  6. Sherry” — The Four Seasons (1962)
  7. What the World Needs Now is Love” — Jackie DeShannon (1965)
  8. Wang Dang Doodle” — Koko Taylor (1966)
  9. Ode to Billie Joe” — Bobbie Gentry (1967)
  10.  “Déjà Vu” — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1970) 
  11.  “Imagine” — John Lennon (1971)
  12.  “Stairway to Heaven” — Led Zeppelin (1971)
  13.  “Take Me Home, Country Roads” — John Denver (1971)
  14.  “Margaritaville” — Jimmy Buffett (1977)
  15.  “Flashdance…What a Feeling” — Irene Cara (1983)
  16.  Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — Eurythmics (1983)
  17.  “Synchronicity” — The Police (1983)
  18.  “Like a Virgin” — Madonna (1984)
  19.  “Black Codes (From the Underground)” — Wynton Marsalis (1985)
  20.  Super Mario Bros. theme — Koji Kondo, composer (1985)
  21.  “All Hail the Queen” — Queen Latifah (1989)
  22.  “All I Want for Christmas is You” — Mariah Carey (1994)
  23.  “Pale Blue Dot” — Carl Sagan (1994)
  24.  “Gasolina” — Daddy Yankee (2004)
  25.  “Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra” — Northwest Chamber Orchestra, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, composer (2012)

As always, it’s quite the eclectic bunch, including several that I can’t believe hadn’t made the cut yet (“Imagine”? “Stairway to Heaven”? Where have you been?). Especially noteworthy is the Super Mario Bros. theme, further proof that the NRR is less stingy about the “National” qualification than the NFR (though the argument can be made that Super Mario has made a large enough impact on American pop culture). And shoutout to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who I mentioned back in my “Woodstock” post hadn’t made the NRR yet. We did it!

Thanks for reading. Next post coming soon. Very soon. Like, right now.

Happy Listening,


#497) Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

#497) Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

OR “A Heavy Meal”

Directed by Stanley Kramer

Written by William Rose

Class of 2017

The Plot: San Francisco liberals Matt & Christina Drayton (Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn) are surprised when their adult daughter Joanna (Katharine Houghton) returns home unannounced. There’s an even bigger surprise when she brings home her fiancé, African-American doctor John Wade Prentice (Sidney Poitier). Despite their outspoken support of Civil Rights, Matt & Christina must now acknowledge their hypocritical discomfort with their daughter’s interracial relationship. An invitation to dinner is extended to not only John, but also his parents visiting from Los Angeles (Roy Glenn & Beah Richards) and family friend Monsignor Ryan (Cecil Kellaway). Looks like the appetizer for this meal is an extended dialogue on racial tolerance.

Why It Matters: The NFR mentions the film’s “movie milestones” as well as its “then-novel plot”, but the only superlatives go to Sidney Poitier for “his customary on-screen charisma, fire and grace.”

But Does It Really?: Like most of Stanley Kramer’s filmography, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is an Important Movie of its time. While the premise was controversial in 1967, the film has become almost quaint, and not without its own insensitive viewpoints. Regardless, “Dinner” is a time capsule of an important issue in the ’60s political landscape, as well as the final pairing of Tracy & Hepburn before Tracy’s passing. “Dinner” is worthy of NFR recognition, but if you’re looking for a more relevant representation of ’60s race relations, stick with “In the Heat of the Night“.

Everybody Gets One: After a string of New York theater productions, Katharine Houghton landed the role of Joanna Drayton thanks to her aunt: Katharine Hepburn (Houghton’s mother is Kate’s sister Marion). Although her film career never took off, Houghton still works as an actor and playwright, and often reflects on “Dinner” and her aunt in interviews.

Wow, That’s Dated: We will discuss the film’s stance on miscegenation in ’60s America as we go. Among the other dated items are references to Governor Lurleen Wallace, the Watusi, “We Can Work It Out“, and Arnold Palmer (the golfer, not the drink).

Seriously, Oscars?: Second only to “The Graduate” at the box office, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” received 10 Oscar nominations, tied with “Bonnie and Clyde” for the most nominations. “Dinner” screenwriter William Rose took home Original Screenplay, and Katharine Hepburn received her second Best Actress Oscar. Hepburn did not attend the ceremony out of respect for Louise Tracy, present in the event of a win for her late husband.

Other notes 

  • By 1967, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn had made eight films together, and had been romantically involved for over 25 years. Tracy’s health was in sharp decline, ailing from both hypertensive heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In order to make “Dinner”, Hepburn and Stanley Kramer put their salaries in escrow to cover Tracy’s insurance risk (Columbia wouldn’t insure him), and Tracy only filmed for three hours a day.
  • You’re all lucky Sidney Poitier is so damn charming. Poitier successfully balances John’s polite and respectful attitude towards Joanna’s parents with his steadfast personal convictions. It helps that Poitier was genuinely intimidated by Tracy and Hepburn, opting to perform his closeups to two empty chairs.
  • There is a 14 year age gap between John and Joanna, and an 18 year age gap between Poitier and Houghton! This is certainly the most progressive readout on the Michael Douglas Scale. I’m sure someone will bring up this concern in the movie. Any minute now…. Wait for it…
  • While Hepburn’s Oscar win may have been the result of sympathy for Tracy’s death, she is quite good in this. It’s fun to watch the openly progressive Kate play a woman forced to confront her inherent hypocrisy, and with Kate we see Christina’s inner struggle. Who knows if Hepburn’s performance is better than Anne Bancroft’s or Faye Dunaway’s, but it is certainly worthy of a trophy.
  • The film makes an effort to address every possible argument regarding interracial marriage, but no mention is made of the violent hate crimes against African-Americans throughout the ’60s. The film’s “love conquers all” thesis is optimistic and romantic, but given all that has transpired since (especially in recents years), it seems shallow to an almost dangerous degree. Keep in mind that this movie was directed and written by white people, which would no doubt be met with outcry today.
  • I’m enjoying Cecil Kellaway’s enthusiastic performance as Monsignor O’Stereotype. Fun Fact: Kellaway’s cousin was Edmund Gwenn, aka Kris Kringle from “Miracle on 34th Street“.
  • Christina telling her racist co-worker Hillary to “get permanently lost” is a highlight, though the moment has been repeated to death in every white savior movie of the last 50 years.
  • The Mel’s Drive-In that Tracy and Hepburn visit is still open! Side note: The man whose car Matt hits in the parking lot is played by D’Urville Martin, future “Dolemite” director.
  • Shoutout to Isabel Sanford, TV’s Louise Jefferson, as the Drayton’s maid Tillie. Sanford still has to play the stereotypical sassy domestic, but Tillie is a little more dimensional. Plus she gets that great monologue where she tells off John.
  • Despite this movie being an original script, it feels like an adaptation of a stage play. Kramer tries to spice it up with dolly shots and vistas of San Francisco, but it’s ultimately two hours of good actors talking on the same set.
  • The second half of the movie parallels “12 Angry Men” as various characters make their arguments and try to convince the others to “vote” their way. Good stuff, but it doesn’t help the “filmed play” vibe.
  • Roy Glenn and Beah Richards are just a tad too young to be Sidney Poitier’s parents, but they help elevate the material and bring some extra energy to the proceedings. Richards in particular nails her one monologue.
  • Already dated by the time the film came out: Mr. Prentice mentions that interracial marriage is illegal “in 16 or 17 states”. While true during production, the Supreme Court deemed anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in the landmark case of “Loving v. Virginia” in June 1967. Kramer opted not to cut the line, though he did delete a joke about Martin Luther King following King’s assassination in April 1968.
  • Spencer Tracy’s climactic summation is worth the wait, though it is hard to separate Matt’s final speech from Tracy’s final performance. Katharine Hepburn is genuinely tearing up in the background.


  • Seventeen days after filming was completed on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, Spencer Tracy died of a heart attack in his home at the age of 67. “Dinner”, his final film, would be released six months later.
  • “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was a hit across America, including the south, which prompted studios to reconsider how they market films with BIPOC leads.
  • “Dinner” is still referenced throughout pop culture, primarily for its title. At least seven sitcoms have named an episode “Guess Who’s NOT Coming to Dinner”, but the best variation goes to the 1973 adult film “Guess Who’s Coming”.
  • Why mention the 2005 Bernie Mac/Ashton Kutcher remake “Guess Who” when I could bring up Jordan Peele’s spiritual remake “Get Out” instead?
  • And finally, Carl Fredricksen from “Up” was partially modeled after Spencer Tracy from this movie, complete with glasses.