Spencer Tracy is Patrick Jamieson, a hard-headed scientist whose heart gave up on love a long time ago and which now takes refuge in facts and only facts. Katharine Hepburn is Jamie Rowan, a young widow who, having had her perfect first love and husband die in a riding accident, has closed herself off to love and life, believing she should--and could--never love again. So, from this common ground and the respect they share for the sciences, Pat and Jamie decide to get married: how perfect, how *convenient* a marriage without love can be! No jealousy, no bickering, just companionship.
Well, that's the *idea* anyway... the viewer knows with pretty much any Hepburn/Tracy vehicle that the two leads are going to wind up together, and very happily so, in the end. The thrill in coming to a film of theirs fresh is seeing how their characters get there. It's a pretty fun ride in WITHOUT LOVE: Hepburn is pitch-perfect as a widow set on becoming a spinster, and Tracy has his slightly bemused, man-(sorta)-above-the-fray character down to a T. The love story is given a lot of care in this film, so that you really can believe that eventually, love--or more importantly, the *lack* of love--can get in the way of a marriage. You watch Pat getting used to Jamie, beginning to find her indispensable; you see Jamie opening up, smiling, even longing for love again. Jamie's loneliness within their self-declared 'loveless' marriage is especially well-handled, because it is *her* heartache, at the loss of a perfect husband and true love, that seems so insurmountable and must be overcome first. Of course, it can't hurt to have the main characters played by Hepburn and Tracy--already there's a built-in audience waiting and expecting these two to get together! But the script also had quite a part to play in that, by the end of the film, I was definitely willing Pat and Jamie to discover their love for each other, and to voice it out loud instead of pretending that their marriage 'without love' hadn't already turned into one full of love. The final scene between Pat and Jamie is startlingly sweet: the roundabout way in which Pat admits his love for Jamie is both heartfelt and true to the relationship between the characters.
All this having been said, WITHOUT LOVE, along with the two melodramas KEEPER OF THE FLAME and THE SEA OF GRASS (and perhaps also Frank Capra's THE STATE OF THE UNION), still remains one of the forgotten--or at the very least, much lesser-known--movies of the nine collaborations between those immortal screen (and real-life) lovers. There probably is a reason for this--the film is entertaining (witness the scene where Pat quite literally sleepwalks into Jamie's bed!), with a clever script ("Are you trying to be vulgar?"/"It takes no effort.") and a great cast (Hepburn and Tracy, of course, but Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn also shine and charm in their small roles to great effect). However, WITHOUT LOVE (also based on a Philip Barry play) is quite simply *not* THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. The script just doesn't have the same zing or exuberance (though you can tell Barry has tried his hardest), and the actors don't share and feed off that same electric current that charged Hepburn's acting against Cary Grant and James Stewart. It can't have been too difficult to figure out, given the greatly contrasting Broadway runs the two plays (both starring Hepburn in the role she originated on stage) had--one smooth and receiving tumultuous welcome wherever it went, the other... well, not *quite* so joyously received.
Still, how often *does* a film like THE PHILADELPHIA STORY come along? Surely while waiting between classics, it couldn't hurt to watch a few solid, sweet and thoroughly engaging films like WITHOUT LOVE. And this film has bonuses as well--Pat and Jamie are more truly equals than any of the characters I've seen Hepburn and Tracy play so far... no 'slapping down' of the Hepburn character by the big gruff bear-paw of the Tracy character. Hepburn fans also get to see her sing (in French!) and totter around in the most alarming feathery get-up (that ending scene is really a hoot!). Keenan Wynn plays a delightful Philip Barry drunk--which means that he's wittier and more lucid than the rest of us, even when we're sober on a good day!--and Lucille Ball is luminous in her small role as Kitty Trimble.
So why not give WITHOUT LOVE a chance to put a smile on your face? With any luck, it'll do that and much, much more...!