Without Love

Without Love ★★★½

Katharine Hepburn starred in three movies based on Philip Barry plays and adapted by Donald Ogden Stewart: the immortal Holiday, the incomparable Philadelphia Story, and this one: a witty, involving but disjointed affair that's somewhat over-reliant on contrivance and coincidence. It was written for the actress and, after playing it for four months on Broadway, she took it to Hollywood. The story sees her hardened, 28-year-old widow (Hepburn was 38) swearing off love and life after the untimely death of her husband, only to be reawakened by a straight-talking scientist on a Government mission (Spencer Tracy). They marry for the sake of companionship and convenience, their union being one Without Love, but naturally it doesn't end there.

I've now seen seven of Tracy and Hepburn's nine films together, and while none are genuine classics, all are interesting and entertaining to some degree: Woman of the Year is the best, despite an overwrought subplot and a weak ending, and State of the Union and Adam's Rib have much to commend them, the former lit by a raw emotional power, the latter sparked by Judy Holliday's supporting pyrotechnics. This one's a touch below, but well worth seeking out for Hepburn. She's alternately harsh, fragile, funny, clever and naïve, displaying that rare gift for rapidly-quickening delivery and shaky-voiced honest sentiment that was her calling card. Playing a very well-written character within a not always coherent drama, she gives one of her finest ever performances - and that's saying something. Tracy is also in very good form, if not quite his greatest, while Lucille Ball works wonders with a colourful if minor supporting role, playing a self-proclaimed "bad girl" who seems oddly smitten with the bespectacled, tippling Keenan Wynn.

Hepburn's the main draw, though, her familiar mannerisms employed to serve a memorable character, even if beyond all Barry and Stewart's astute philosophical ruminations my favourite moment is just Kate laying down one of her magnificent, self-mocking "haha"s.