Kramer vs Kramer vs Kramer

A “brand new tradition” is an oxymoron, similar to a “brand new antique”! There are traditions passed down from generation to generation, such as “Mundan”, the ritualistic clean shave that kids get when they are about 1 year old. We all went through that in India and continued it for my daughters (here in the US) and again did so recently for my grandson. Then there are “brand new traditions” such as the ones we started in our family a few decades ago here in the US and still continuing today. Watching back-to-back movies on New Year’s eve is one such tradition that I am very proud of. Taking a nap on Sunday afternoons on the sofa is an example of one that I am not so proud of. 😊

In preparation for the New Year’s eve, we would first try to get a consensus on which movies we wanted to watch. With four strong willed folks making up our family unit, you can well imagine that this was not an easy task. At first blush, it might seem like this consensus-making was slightly manipulated. But, based on the number of hours that we got subjected to “Barney”, “Matilda”, “Lion King” and “Jungle Book”, we figured that we the parents, should be allowed some leeway in manipulating the list of movies to watch 😊. Once we narrowed the list down (without any help from Google or IMDB etc.), it was my job to hunt these movies down from either Blockbuster rentals or the local public library. One year (most likely 2003), I randomly picked up the VHS tapes for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Inherit The Wind” from the Library, mainly because these were the crumbs left behind after everyone else cleared out the sought-after popular ones.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (GWCTD) (7.8/10 on IMDB; Available on Youtube/Amazon pay option)

“Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” was and is an amazing social drama that deals with interracial marriage in the 1960s and was a pathbreaker in so many different ways. Such marriages only became legal in the US in 1967 (just 6 months before this film was released). It features brilliant portrayal by all the actors, especially stalwarts – Spencer Tracy , Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. The theme of interracial marriage and the powerful dialog and interactions depicted could easily apply to inter-faith and inter-caste marriages that we routinely come across in India.

While the theme is serious, the rational discussion and reasoning between all these adults that are trying to explain/convince others without resorting to the kind of histrionics that we normally associate with such themes is very refreshing. It’s a powerful movie that packs a lot in under 2 hours. Do not miss it.

Spencer Tracy never saw the movie – as he died 17 days after completion of his shoots. It seems that Katherine Hepburn never saw the movie either- as she felt that it would be too emotional for her (She and Spencer were a couple in real life).

A future black US President predicted in 1967!

Inherit the Wind (ITW) ( 8.1/10 on IMDB; Available for rent on YouTube. The 1988 version with Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas is free on Amazon Prime).

This was a total fluke for me. I had never heard of “Inherit the Wind”. I only picked it up because it was right next to “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” on the shelf and I had to grab one last VHS before the library closed.

..and what a pick this turned out to be! The story is simple and based on a real case from Tennessee known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial”. It’s about a teacher, who, in 1925, was tried for teaching Evolution in school, which was against the law back then.

This movie has the potent mix of religion, science and fiery oratory – from the high profile lawyers on the case played by Oscar winners Spencer Tracy and Frederic March. Unlike his usual song and dance roles, Gene Kelly plays a wise-cracking reporter and does so brilliantly. I strongly recommend this classic courtroom drama which is in the same league as “12 Angry Men” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Fiery courtroom drama!

Trivia : In 1960, “Inherit the Wind” became the world’s first “in-flight” movie when Trans World Airlines used it to lure first-class passengers (this is from a note on the DVD box).

While watching Inherit the Wind, I realized that the director of both of these movies was the same guy – Stanley Kramer! I had never heard of his name before or paid attention to his works. I later found out that Kramer was a giant in the area of social issue-based movies, which he produced and directed.

After that year, re-watching these two movies on New Year’s eve became our fallback option/tradition, if we could not agree on any other movies as a family. When we first started watching, our daughters were only 12 and 9 (in 2003), and were going to Middle school and Elementary school respectively. Even though you would think that these two movies would be slightly above their level (intellect/level of maturity – for that age) – they not only understood the adult themes and dialogs but actually thoroughly enjoyed them. As a matter of fact, they used to request to re-watch them in later years.

After a couple of years, I ended up buying these two DVDs, just so we will always have them when needed. Of course, this was before the abundance of streaming services and choices that we have today.

I was very surprised to find that “Inherit The Wind” was recently adapted into Indian cinema . “The Holy Conspiracy” – which is primarily in Bengali and English has legendary actors Soumitra Chattopadhyay and Naseeruddin Shah in the lead roles. I can’t wait to watch it to see how it compares with the original and also to see if the theme works in the Indian context. This movie is the perfect vehicle to tackle the topics of religion, education and pseudo-science and will be effective as long as the audiences go in with an open mind. I wish they had dubbed it in Hindi and the other regional languages for a wider reach.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World ( 7.5/10 on IMDB; Available for rent on YouTube and Amazon Prime).

The next year, when I picked up “It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world” for our New Year’s eve marathon – I was pleasantly surprised, when I realized that this was yet another Stanley Kramer movie. With this zany comedy, he proved beyond a doubt that he had an amazing range (from serious drama to silly comedy). While I had not come across the other two movies before, this one I had watched in Hyderabad, India (in Liberty Theater, in Basheerbagh) back in the late 70s. It’s a riotous slapstick comedy that had us in splits from the get-go. At that time I probably only understood about 50% of the dialog and definitely had no idea about the amazing cast and famous cameos that were assembled for this production. It’s a literal who’s-who of comedy scene of that time. Only recently did I catch the cameos by Carl Reiner, “The Three Stooges” and both the landlords from the sitcom “Three’s Company” – Norman Fell and Don Knotts. I would definitely rank it among the greatest comedies of all time.

It’s a zany, zany, zany, zany comedy!

These three movies are absolute gems that came from the creative genius that is Stanley Kramer. Of course, in addition to the director, Spencer Tracy is the brilliant common factor in all three movies and he shines through even when surrounded by other greats like Sidney Poitier, Kate Hepburn, Frederic March, Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly and Milton Berle. Please check them all out for yourself and let me know which of these Kramer movies is your favorite. Pease share your thoughts/feedback in the comments section below.