Tracy & Hepburn: The Signature Collection

Before the days of Bennifer, it wasn't unusual for a successful screen pair to team up for several different movies over a period of a few years; the perfect duo of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn — who were partners on and off screen for a quarter century — did nine films together over their career and three of the best are collected here. From the moment Spencer Tracy, playing sports columnist Sam, walks into an office where Katherine Hepburn, as political activist Tess, is pulling up her stockings in Woman of the Year, theirs is the very definition of onscreen chemistry. Hepburn is a tall, striking and powerful woman who could overpower almost any man — or at least bring out his Neanderthal competitiveness. But Tracy, all man in the most old school way, holds his ground without pushing, confident in his masculinity yet sensitive enough to know that meeting his match will benefit everyone. For films made in the 1940s, these were extremely progressive themes, and to have Tracy, the everyman hero, honouring Hepburn's feminist ideals gave them credence and weight. In fact, Hepburn comes out mostly on top throughout their collaborations, particularly their first, Woman of the Year. For an equally matched battle of the sexes, rarely has such a delightful one been waged as Adam's Rib, in which the pair faces off as married lawyers on opposite sides of a legal wrangle featuring, once again, feminist themes at its core. Hepburn plays the sports hero in a funny collaboration, Pat and Mike, which takes full advantage of her natural athletic ability as a golfer and tennis player, matching her (at least in the story) against the best female athletes of the day, notably super-athlete and world class golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias. The inclusion of the loving tribute, narrated and hosted by Hepburn, "The Spencer Tracy Legacy," is a nice addition, but despite Hepburn's insights into their first meeting and fond memories, it plays more like a filmography with clips than a revealing story of their lives together. (She doesn't mention their romantic history at all.) It would have been nice to have at least one of their more serious films included as well, if only to showcase that their range went beyond the well-timed quip, but for banter of the sexes, it's hard to find two who did it better. (Warner)