Spencer Tracy was one of Hollywood’s best loved actors who was a major star right from the early 1930s through to his death in 1967. He was something of an everyman in many of his movies but an everyman with integrity.
Clark Gable, who co-starred with Tracy in several 1930’s movies, said of him “the guy’s good. There’s nobody in the business who can touch him, and you’re a fool to try.” Meanwhile his long term partner Katherine Hepburn said of him “he’s like an old oak tree, or the summer, or the wind. He belongs to the era when men were men.”
We’d have to whole heartedly agree! Here then is our pick of five of his best movies.
Captains Courageous (1937)
Perfect family entertainment in the classic Hollywood style. In this Kipling story, the spoiled son of a shipping magnate (Freddie Bartholomew) falls overboard from a luxury liner and is picked up by a Nantucket fishing schooner captained by the Oscar-winning Tracy. Forced to earn his keep, the boy’s extended voyage and warm relationship with the captain show him what’s important in life. Child actor Freddie Bartholomew was billed above costar Spencer Tracy even though it was Tracy who was nominated–and won–the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for the film. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Picture; Best Screenplay.
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Freddie Bartholomew, John Carradine, Leo G. Carroll, Melvyn Douglas, Charley Grapewin, Mickey Rooney,
Boys Town (1938)
The story of Father Flanagan, who battled the courts and the community to create a home for boys that society had tossed away. Mickey Rooney plays a particularly tough challenge. Tracy gave his Oscar statuette to the priest and Boys Town founder with an inscription dedicating his performance. It is still on display at the Boys Town museum. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay.
Director: Norman Taurog
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Tommy Noonan, Mickey Rooney,
Adam’s Rib (1949)
Tracy and Katherine Hepburn at their best as two married lawyers who take opposite sides of a front-page case. District Attorney Tracy heads the prosecution when a pistol-packing blonde goes after her girl-chasing husband and his mistress. But wife Hepburn thinks women should have the right to do exactly what men have done for years–get revenge! So it’s Hepburn for the defense in a trial that proves all’s fair in love, war, and court. An ahead-of-its-time script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, combined with the matchless chemistry between Hepburn and Tracy, make this a sophisticated piece of entertainment. Adam’s Rib also featured a star-making performance by Judy Holliday, who up to that point had played only bit parts. This film led to a lead role in Born Yesterday (1950).
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell,
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
A taut suspense story that seems to be always teetering on the edge of explosive violence. Tracy commands attention as a one-armed man who tames the ruffians who run roughshod over a weatherbeaten desert town. In the process, he uncovers the town’s secrets and fulfills a promise made to the man who saved his life. A powerful, influential film. Based on Howard Breslin’s novel. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Director; Best Actor: Spencer Tracy; Best Screenplay.
Director: John Sturges
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan, Russell Collins, John Ericson, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan,
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
A liberal white couple (Katherine Hepburn and Tracy, in Tracy’s last appearance) put their platitudes to the test. They always taught their daughter that all people are created equal, regardless of race or religion . . . until she unexpectedly brings home a black doctor (Sidney Poitier) and announces that they’re engaged. Mostly interesting for a look at ’60s attitudes toward race and the performances of Tracy and Hepburn. Academy Award Nominations: 10, including Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor: Spencer Tracy.
Director: Stanley Kramer
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Cecil Kellaway, Sidney Poitier,