It's time now for critic Bob Mondello's suggestions for your home-video queue. This week, he's talking-up a decades-long love affair that is fully documented in a new boxed set: Tracy & Hepburn, The Definitive Collection.
The first moment they locked horns — Woman of the Year, 1942 — journalist Spencer Tracy was barreling into an office, stopped cold by Katharine Hepburn straightening her stocking in a blaze of sunlight. Their opening lines set the tone for the next 27 years of collaboration. Asked whether they'd met, Tracy replies, "Yes, in a belligerent sort of way," and she replies with a smile, "He hit me first."
All their films contrast his earthiness with her elegance, but oh, the variations they could work on that theme. Athlete and promoter in Pat and Mike, dueling attorneys in Adam's Rib, reluctant politician and principled spouse in State of the Union.
This new set has all nine of their films — two for the first time on DVD: Keeper of the Flame, an over-earnest wartime drama about incipient fascism in the U.S., and Sea of Grass, a western about a husband and wife who barely speak to each other (talk about misunderstanding your stars' chemistry).
Extras include cartoons, Our Gang comedies and a tribute to Tracy narrated by Hepburn that concludes with her reading a long letter — a love letter really — that she wrote to him 18 years after he died. It's a breathtaking five minutes and 34 seconds.
Their last scene together, shot just weeks before Tracy passed away, was from Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Tracy's speaking of the characters, though he might as well be talking about him and Kate, as Hepburn looks on, eyes brimming with tears.
"Old? ... yes. Burnt out? ... certainly. But I can tell you, the memories are still there –- clear, intact, indestructible."