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Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy had struck sparks, both professionally and personally, in their first film together, Woman of the Year (1942). The public was clamoring for more from the team, but Keeper of the Flame (1942), the turgid melodrama they made immediately after Woman, was a mistake. A comedy was needed, and Hepburn had just the one: Without Love, a play written for her by Philip Barry, who had written the play The Philadelphia Story (1939). In 1942, Hepburn had agreed to do Without Love on Broadway, and wanted Tracy to play opposite her. But the producers, concerned about his drinking, refused, and cast the rather effete Elliott Nugent. Nugent had no chemistry with Hepburn, but thanks to her star power, the play was a qualified success.
After the failure of Keeper of the Flame, Hepburn persuaded MGM to buy the film rights to Without Love for her and Tracy. The film version of Without Love (1945) finally made it to the screen after the stars had finished their commitments to do other films. The setting of Without Love is Washington, D.C., which had a severe housing shortage during World War II because of the influx of people doing war-related work. Tracy plays one of those people, a scientist, who finds the housing he needs in the home of Hepburn, a widow. For the sake of propriety, the couple embarks on a platonic marriage, and spends the rest of the film falling in love. The screenplay was by Donald Ogden Stewart, who had won an Academy Award for his screen adaptation of The Philadelphia Story (1940).
The reviews for Without Love, while not ecstatic, were generally good. The New Yorker called it "a very witty and engaging picture, recommended here without hesitation." The stars came in for their share of praise, but it was two of the supporting players who got the best reviews, and, according to some, stole the show. Keenan Wynn, a New York stage actor (and the son of comedian Ed Wynn), had minor roles in a few films. Hepburn and Tracy were familiar with his theater work, and arranged for him to test for a featured role as Hepburn's cousin in Without Love. It was one of Wynn's first films, and the one that got him noticed.
Lucille Ball knew Hepburn from their RKO days. Ball had a small but juicy role in Hepburn's Stage Door (1937), and had been under contract at MGM for several years, with little to do. Ball's role in Without Love as the wisecracking real estate agent was a welcome change of pace. "It is good to see Lucille Ball doing so well with a kind of role new to her," wrote James Agee in The Nation. It was also amazing, considering the turmoil of Ball's private life at the time. The morning she began work on Without Love, Ball went to court to sue Desi Arnaz for divorce. The charge was the usual mental cruelty, but the real reason was Arnaz's well-known roving eye. The couple eventually reconciled, just after Ball picked up her interlocutory decree.
A professional relationship was also developing for Ball on the Without Love set. The film's cinematographer, Karl Freund, had photographed Ball's first MGM (and first color) film, Du Barry was a Lady (1943). Freund, whose long career stretched back to 1907 in Germany, and included a stint as a director at Universal, had settled at MGM as a cinematographer in 1935. Years later, when Ball and Arnaz were planning their television series, I Love Lucy, in 1951, they wanted to shoot it with three cameras simultaneously, which had never been done before. Remembering Freund's innovative work, they hired him as director of photography for the show. Freund invented an overhead lighting system that made shooting with three cameras possible.
Director: Harold S. Bucquet
Producer: Lawrence A. Weingarten
Screenplay: Donald Ogden Stewart, from the play by Philip Barry
Cinematography: Karl Freund
Editor: Frank Sullivan
Costume Design: Irene
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Harry McAfee
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Spencer Tracy (Pat Jamieson), Katharine Hepburn (Jamie Rowan), Lucille Ball (Kitty Trimble), Keenan Wynn (Quentin Ladd), Carl Esmond (Paul Carrell), Patricia Morison (Edwina Collins), Felix Bressart (Professor Grinza), Emily Massey (Anna).
BW-111m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri