Pat and Mike (1952)
Katharine Hepburn is one of my favorite actresses, and I do love movies about female athletes (Dangerous When Wet, Easy to Love, It’s a Pleasure, Million Dollar Mermaid, One in a Million) so today I bring you Pat and Mike (1952), starring Hepburn and her real life love, Spencer Tracy.
Pat and Mike is about Pat (Hepburn), an extraordinary athlete who excels in several different sports, and Mike (Tracy), a slightly crooked promoter and manager who recognizes Pat’s talent and nurtures her career. It’s Hepburn and Tracy, so they eventually fall in love, too.
This was their 7th movie together: Woman of the Year (1942), Keeper of the Flame (1942), Without Love (1945), The Sea of Grass (1947), State of the Union (1948), and Adam’s Rib (1949). They would make nine films together over their incredibly long careers, with Desk Set (1957) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) after Pat and Mike.
This film was the second movie written specifically for Hepburn and Tracy by their friends Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. This screenwriting-husband-and-wife duo wrote Adam’s Rib about husband-and-wife attorneys for Hepburn/Tracy, which was extremely popular upon its release and is now considered a classic.
Kanin and Gordon were supposedly inspired to write this movie after watching Hepburn play tennis. Hepburn was an excellent athlete, and this movie showcases her skills at tennis and golf. Throw in Spencer Tracy, and you’ve got a winner.
As in Adam’s Rib, this movie features Hepburn and Tracy as two strong characters in an amusing romantic comedy/battle that makes the most of their wonderful on-screen chemistry.
Although Spencer Tracy remained married to his wife Louise until his death, (they lived separately beginning in the 1930s), he and Hepburn embarked on a love affair after they met on Woman of the Year in 1941.
It was a semi-secret relationship: Tracy wanted to hide it from Louise, and MGM wanted to keep their affair secret from the public, though everyone in Hollywood knew, and the pair lived together for the last several years of Tracy’s life.
Tracy and Hepburn were together for 26 years until Tracy died in 1967. Out of respect for his family, Hepburn didn’t even attend his funeral, and she didn’t speak openly about the relationship until after Louise passed away.
So, by the time they made Pat and Mike, Hepburn and Tracy had been together for a decade and were a beloved screen team.
They don’t immediately fall in love in the movie, though. For a long time, though, neither Pat nor Mike think of the other as a potential romantic partner. Pat’s got an obnoxious, controlling fiancé, and Mike thinks of Pat the way he thinks of his horse and the boxer he manages; they are all commodities to promote.
The movie opens on a pretty college campus in California. We see a handsome blonde man (William Ching) gathering up his golf clubs and leaving an office. A helpful sign outside his door gives us the man’s name and job: he’s Collier Weld, Asst. Administrative Vice President. It’s an efficient storytelling device, much like the newspaper headlines I waxed on about in To Catch a Thief (1955).
He throws his golf bag into his convertible and honks the horn obnoxiously. Cut to Katharine Hepburn inside a gym instructing co-eds in basketball.
It looks as though it is a gorgeous sunny day in California, so I’m not sure why Collier and Pat are in such heavy clothes. His tweed suit and sweater vest, and her mock turtle, collared shirt, and cardigan ensemble make me uncomfortably warm just watching them. But they don’t seem to mind, so try to get past it. (Orry-Kelly designed Hepburn’s clothes for this film.)
Pat hears the horn and runs outside with her golf bag. At first she and Collier seem very much in love and very happy together, but almost as soon as they kiss, he starts reprimanding her for wearing pants (“Slacks,” she says, “Watch your language.”) But her face falls.
Collier says that the wealthy potential donor they’re playing golf with is very conservative, so she sprints for a skirt and changes in the back seat as he drives to the course.
As he drives, he tells her over and over how important it is that the donor, Mr. Beminger, wins. Pat and Mr. Beminger are playing against Collier and Mrs. Beminger, so Collier reminds Pat several times that she needs to play well to ensure her side wins. You can tell that she doesn’t appreciate Collier’s dominating tone and relentless badgering.
She plays his ball and eventually drives off in his car with Grant hanging on to the running board…
Pat’s first shot is pretty bad, and she looks as though she wants to sink into the grass and disappear. Meanwhile, Mrs. B tells Pat that her alignment is all off because she isn’t “tensing the gluteal muscles.” As Collier sucks up to the donor and his wife, a caddy walks with Pat and mockingly imitates Mrs. B’s constant exhortations to “Tense!” At least someone is on Pat’s side.
Pat’s game doesn’t improve, and Collier’s stern looks definitely don’t help. Whenever Collier glares at her, Pat puts her hand to her mouth in a sort of tic. It’s a useful habit that tells the audience that Pat is feeling pressure from her darling fiancé. And it always precedes a bad shot.
Well, Pat and Mr. B lose. Mr. B is bitter, Collier is mad, Pat is crushed, and Mrs. B annoyingly keeps telling Pat how she can improve.
Pat finally loses it as she and Mrs. B walk by the driving range. She grabs a driver, steps up to some conveniently placed golf balls, and hits about ten perfect drives, one after another, swinging her club like a pendulum. Mrs. B finally shuts up at this remarkable display.
After blowing Mrs. B’s mind, Pat snarls at her: “You know what you can do with your gluteal muscle? Give it away for Christmas!” and stalks to the clubhouse.
Pat’s victorious feeling quickly fades, though, especially after Collier chastises her. Pat sits down and tries not to cry. The club pro (Jim Backus) knows that Pat is an excellent golfer, even if she doesn’t play well with Collier. They chat:
He convinces her to enter the National Match Play Championship as an amateur. He says she could win the whole thing, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help her succeed. I think she’s so startled by his support, (the opposite of Collier’s attitude) that she quits her job at the college and commits to training full-time. Cut to the tournament.
The golf scenes were filmed around Los Angeles, with the match play championship taking place at Riviera Country Club. The image on the left shows the distinctive club house in the background.
One cool thing about this movie is that actual sports stars make cameos. Famous female golfers Helen Dettweiler, Betty Hicks, Beverly Hanson, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias all play themselves in the movie.
You may have heard of Babe–she was a phenomenal athlete who won Olympic gold and silver medals in track, was an All-American basketball player, a competitive billiards player, and a champion golfer who won 82 tournaments and every golf title in existence. She qualified for several PGA events, and is still the only female golfer to make the cut in a regular PGA Tour event.
Babe appears several times in this movie, and Pat is basically a version of Babe. It’s pretty cool to watch Katharine Hepburn putt, followed a moment later by Babe.
Pat plays really well and makes it to the finals. The day before the final match, two men sneak into Pat’s hotel room through the window. They hear her coming and hide in the bathroom, but she finds them when she goes to turn on the shower. Hence the robe she holds up to cover her slip.
It’s Mike (Tracy) and Barney (Sammy White), and they’re crooked sports managers/promoters hoping to get Pat to throw the match and come in second so they can make some money.
Mike has a thick Brooklyn accent and seems a little coarse next to patrician Pat. But he’s exceedingly charming in his own way, and his smile! Oh, his smile. It makes me smile, and it seems as though Pat wants to smile, too.
When Hepburn and Tracy are onscreen together, it’s magic. Part of it is the knowledge that they were real-life loves, but a lot of it is that vague thing called “chemistry.” They’ve got it, and it makes the movie crackle.
Pat is flabbergasted at their seedy request and flatly refuses to cheat, so Mike and his sidekick leave through the window. But not before Mike tells Pat:
In his accent it sounds like “bee-you-ti-ful,” and he includes a long, suggestive pause…and a killer smile.
To his credit, Mike doesn’t try to intimidate Pat. He knows she’s a lost cause. When Barney suggests that maybe Pat will change her mind and throw the match after all, Mike says there is no chance. He says, “Did you see her face? A real honest face. The only disgusting thing about her.”
The next day, Pat plays great and is leading Babe in the finals. Pat’s hitting tricky shots around trees and sinking putts; she can’t miss. There’s a good amount of golf (and later tennis) in this movie, and it’s all real.
Unlike in some sports movies like Wimbledon (2004), when they used a CGI tennis ball and had the actors run around in choreographed rallies, when you see Hepburn play golf or tennis, it’s really her playing golf or tennis. She’s sinking the putts and hitting the volleys. It’s cool.
Mike watches Pat closely all match, and notices something funny happen when Pat sees Collier in the crowd.
Suddenly Pat starts missing shots. Babe wins (she even looks right into the camera and raises her fists in victory), and Pat gets second, after all.
Mike finds Pat after the match to offer his (legal and legitimate) services as a manager:
Pat smiles ruefully and walks away in her lovely argyle sweater without committing to Mike. He watches her go, and then says an iconic line:
(His accent turns “choice” into “cherce” and it’s perfect.) Classic. You can watch the scene here.
Collier tells Pat it’s time she gave up on this foolish sports career and came home. She gets on the train with him, but at the last minute throws her bags out of the window and jumps from the moving train. She realizes that she needs to see how far she can go, and she can’t go back to being with Collier just yet.
She shows up at Mike’s New York office, and he’s thrilled. Then he’s flabbergasted when she lists her talents:
Mike stops her after she admits that she boxes, too, with: “That’s all honey, that’s all–say no more! Of course there’s always a chance that you could be an escaped fruitcake. But if there is something in what…as a matter of fact, if there is anything in what you say, I am going to promote you into the King of the World! Queen, I mean. Let’s go.”
They’re off. First to a city tennis court to see what she can do…
…it’s all aces…
I like how Barney glances heavenward as though praying that what he’s witnessing is true. Mike looks more calmly assessing in his pinstripes, but I think he’s freaking out on the inside.
Then they go shooting:
She’s great at that, too. This is the only shooting we see in the movie, though. We also don’t see her box, play basketball, baseball, or ice hockey, unfortunately. From now on it’s all tennis and golf.
Mike officially takes Pat on as a client, and immediately starts dictating just about everything she does. He’s almost beside himself when he sees her light up at lunch, and he snatches the cigarette out of her mouth. He also cancels her martini order, makes her get a rare steak when she wanted medium, and tells her what time she’ll go to bed. You can watch the scene here.
She’s not happy about his level of control. A theme in the movie is Pat’s desire to live her own life and make her own choices, so naturally there’s some tension in Pat and Mike’s relationship.
But eventually things smooth out into an easy, platonic friendship. Pat’s killing it on the tennis circuit, a situation ripe for several famous tennis player cameos. We see Don Budge, Gussie Moran, Frank Parker, and Alice Marble.
Pat is unstoppable. Until the match against Gussie Moran, that is. Moran wears a shiny white tennis dress and poses for pictures. Pat looks much more sensible, but much less glamorous in her shirt and shorts.
There’s a backstory behind the costumes. Moran wore a short dress with frilly lace “knickers” to play at Wimbledon in 1949. The outfit quickly became notorious; photographers tried to get photos of the lace frills, and the press started calling her “Gorgeous Gussie.” Wimbledon was scandalized, and Moran was mortified. She only wore the dress once before reverting to shorts.
But after Wimbledon, once her embarrassment had faded, “Gorgeous Gussie” turned professional and used the dress to draw crowds to her matches. So when Moran poses for photographers and even does a little twirl for them, that’s why. It was her “thing.”
Well, Pat kicks Moran’s fanny for most of the match. But then she sees Collier in the stands. Pat has a full-on panic attack/hallucination. Suddenly the net stretches to the ceiling, Collier is everywhere she looks, including in the umpire’s chair, and Pat’s racket shrinks while Moran’s grows.
After the match Collier tries to get Pat to give up on her sports career, again. He accuses Mike of pushing Pat too hard and causing the meltdown. (Collier is not very self-aware.) Pat stays with Mike.
Pat trains alongside Mike’s other client, heavyweight Davie Hucko (Aldo Ray).
“Who made you?” “You, Mike.”
“Who owns the biggest piece of you?” “You, Mike.”
“What would happen if I dropped you?” “I’d go right down the drain, Mike.”
“And?” “And stay there.”
Hucko is not the brightest bulb, but he’s a good boxer, and very sweet to Pat. Anyway, as Pat runs and Mike bikes, he asks her about her meltdown at the tennis match. She tells him, reluctantly, that she’s never been able to perform when Collier’s watching. She assumes it’s because she loves him.
Mike says that it’s the same with him and lobsters. He loves ’em, but they’re the only thing that don’t agree with him. You can watch the scene here.
Slowly but surely, Pat and Mike begin to fall for each other. It’s too adorable. And how elegant is Hepburn’s dress!
After Mike walks Pat to her door one evening, they both have mini-hallucinations. First up is Pat; her bedside photograph of Collier gets a new, more pleasing head.
But I think Mike’s hallucination wins the prize for most ridiculous. His horse suddenly gets a new face:
It’s every girl’s dream to have her face morphed onto a horse’s head in the confused mind of her beloved, right?
Anyway, a year has gone by and it’s time for the National Match Play Tournament. Pat returns, confident now that she belongs with Babe, Helen, and Beverly. But some of Mike’s old colleagues (shady ones) come out of the woodwork. (Mike has quietly reformed but these guys don’t want to let him go.) One of the crooks is Charles Bronson!
They threaten Pat and Mike, and say that if Pat doesn’t throw the match they’ll hurt Mike.
The men step outside, but obviously Pat isn’t going to stand by idly while her love is beaten up! She does a tidy ankle lift-and-flip on Charles Bronson:
Before disabling the other guy with a an elbow to the chin and a tossing-of-the-glasses into the dirt.
She only has a moment to check on stunned Mike before Bronson is up again, but it’s no trouble to take him down a second time. The other guys is busy searching for his glasses…
Mike watches with his mouth open. Pat adorably asks him if he’d ever seen such a thing (the blackjack she took from Bronson), but he only comes to when he hears applause from the restaurant porch.
Mike is emasculated and in shock. Collier hears the commotion and flips out, too. Poor Pat, having to deal with all these hysterical men all of the time!
The fight is one of the funniest scenes in the movie, made even funnier when everyone is interviewed by the police. When the policeman asks what happened, Pat very calmly and kindly demonstrates what she did, flipping Bronson again, elbowing the other guy, and even pushing Mike out of the way to protect him, without seeming to realize her own strength. The thugs are practically in tears, begging the policeman to get them away from her.
Later that night, Mike comes to check on Pat. He tucks her in as she slumbers, but she wakes up before he leaves. They have a heart-to-heart, and it’s wonderful. Big smile.
Guess what she does the next day? Kicks ass and takes names.
As they walk off the green, triumphant, she starts their own “three questions.” She asks him: “What would happen if I ever dropped you?” He says, “I’d go right down the drain.” “And?” she prompts. “And take you right down with me, shorty.”
Can’t even handle it.
This movie is lots of fun, and the sports angle is unusual and quite interesting. At the end of the trailer, the words “Pat and Mike is a film you’ll like” appear, and I quite agree with that rhyming jingle. Tracy is wonderful as hard-edged but very soft-hearted New Yorker, and Hepburn seems to be in her element as athletic Pat. Katharine Hepburn later said that Pat and Mike was her favorite Hepburn/Tracy film.
Pat and Mike was directed by George Cukor, who directed Hepburn many times, including in Holiday (1938), and The Philadelphia Story (1940). He also helmed the Hepburn/Tracy films The Keeper of the Flame and Adam’s Rib. Here’s Cukor around the set. He and Hepburn were good friends.
I’ve got two trailers for you: one introduced and narrated by Aldo Ray, an up and coming star, and one animated version that reminds me of the Flinstones. Either way, enjoy!