Filmsite Movie Review
Adam's Rib (1949)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

That Evening

The next scene begins in the Bonner dining room, where the table is set for a formal dinner for ten. At twenty minutes of eight, Amanda straightens the candles in the candelabra, just as Adam arrives home late from work. He pursues and follows after her as she leaves the room, enters the adjoining living room, and proceeds rapidly up the stairs.

In another extended sequence with an immobile camera focused on the middle of their bedroom, Adam and Amanda pop in and out of the frame from the right and left sides as they get ready for their dinner party. [Their relationship may not be as tight and mutually satisfying as first thought by Cukor's direction of this scene.] When she exits off-camera to the left, he brings in a hat box from the right, sets it on a chair, and unwraps it. The screen frame is empty for a short while as they talk to each other from opposite off-camera positions. When Amanda next appears on-screen in a black dress, she stops at the hat box and exclaims her joy at his present - "the best hat in the world for the best head." She acknowledges her thanks for his gift by moving off-camera to the right, and presenting him with an off-screen kiss. They both re-enter the right side of the frame as she tries on the hat and looks in the mirror, and then they are sent into a flurry of activity (with futile and frustrating mis-communication) in their respective off-camera positions when the first guests (Mr. and Mrs. Bonner Sr.) begin to arrive.

They race downstairs, with the back of Amanda's dress still unhooked and unzipped, until Adam assists her with the last few unreachable snaps. Their across-the-hall, Broadway song-composing neighbor Kip Lurie (David Wayne in a role modeled on Cole Porter) and Emerald Messel (Paula Raymond) arrive next, although he is unabashedly flirtatious with Amanda and kiddingly contemptuous of Adam:

Amanda, my love. Why do you stay married to a legal beagle with ten thumbs?

Although Adam hates Kip, Amanda is tolerant to his flattering advances. To the new arrivals, Kip remarks: "Are you the judges? Somebody said judges were coming." A songwriter, Kip is steered to the piano to serenade the judicial guests and their wives, as Amanda divulges to her father that she will be her husband's opponent in the Attinger case:

A girl named Doris Attinger shot her husband. I'm going to defend her.

Adam stops short and whirls around with a drink tray - every glass topples to the floor as he overhears the news for the first time. A large rupture or fissure in the Bonner's relationship begins to develop when Adam realizes that Amanda will be opposing his prosecution of Doris.

After dinner, the Bonners entertain their guests in the living room by projecting sixteen mm. home movies shot at their country farm in Connecticut. The four minute movie is titled: "Bonner Epics present 'The Mortgage the Merrier' - A Too Real Epic." More friction between the Bonners is encouraged by the insipid, mordant commentary provided by Kip during the movie's playing - he calls many things "an old Connecticut custom." After Emerald makes a sarcastic response to one of his wisecrack jokes, Kip replies: "I know a lady collapsed a lung once laughing like that." In the movie-within-a-movie, Amanda plays tennis, performs amateur stunts in front of the camera, and both of the Bonners celebrate the day that they paid off the mortgage with a check. The mortgage document is burned to provide the flame for roasting hotdogs on a grill. In scenes that mock silent melodramas, there are instances of "tree-kissing," "barn-kissing," and "wife-kissing," with a finale of Adam paddling Amanda in a canoe.

The issue over the Attinger case comes to a boil in the Bonner's bedroom as they prepare to retire. From opposite sides of their again-empty bedroom, they are shouting at each other and storming into the room. Adam has been sulking all evening "with a growl" on his face:

Adam: If you think you're gonna turn a court of law into a Punch and Judy show...
Amanda: Darling, please, please, this means a great deal to me and it is not a stunt. This poor woman - isn't she entitled to the same justice, I mean, that's usually reserved for men? The same unwritten law that got Lennahan off...I know what you're going to say. That he should have been convicted too. But, he wasn't...And you're not gonna put this poor soul away just because she had the misfortune to be born a female. Not if I can help it.

Adam cannot "get-a-word-in-edgewise," but when he does, he threatens to battle her to the bitter end: "I am going to cut you into twelve little pieces and feed you to the jury. So get prepared for it!" But they are restored to intimacy with each other as they say goodnight and embrace with the lights out.

The carving on the exterior of the court building is chiseled with a well-known Jeffersonian inscription: "EQUAL AND EXACT JUSTICE TO ALL MEN OF WHATEVER STATE OR PERSUASION." In the Criminal Courts Building, the courtroom is filled for the first day of juror selection for the Attinger case (the People vs. Attinger). Adam's side enters the courtroom first, then followed by Amanda and her assistants. When the defendant enters the court, Adam does a double-take - she is wearing Amanda's hat, the one he bought for her.

Paternalistic and chauvinistic, Adam treats the case as a simple assault. During her non-traditional questioning of potential jurors, Amanda states her feminist presuppositions and argues against double standards. She uses her client for the purpose of making a political statement:

I submit that my entire line of defense is based upon the proposition that persons of the female sex should be dealt with, before the law, as the equals of persons of the male sex. I submit that I cannot hope to argue this line before minds hostile to and prejudiced against the female sex.

She challenges each of the possible jurors on their beliefs regarding equal rights for women - thereby shaking and threatening their marriage at home as well. Still agreeable as friendly competitors in the early stages of the trial, they both knock pencils onto the floor of the courtroom so they can lean down to send smiles and blow kisses to each other under the table.

That Evening

When Adam returns home late that evening, Amanda is waiting for him - sitting on the bottom step of the stairway near the front door with a daiquiri for him in hand. In the romantic, intimate setting of their living room, they sit on the couch and have a very interactive, lingering, ad-lib conversation. Amanda wishes to remain at home rather than go out for dinner: "Cook up something ourselves. Something exotic." In the day's paper is a feature that reports on her court arguments: "SOCIAL STANDARD UNFAIR TO FEMALE SEX DECLARED IN COURT BY MRS. BONNER." As they walk to the kitchen, he rubs her neck and then pulls her off-screen for a big kiss in the dark hallway. When he emerges into the lightened kitchen where she has fled, a big smear of lipstick covers his mouth. As two kitchen gourmets, they cooperatively prepare a meal of salad, rice, and lamb curry. But he asks for her to give up the case: "Drop the case...I could see in there, even today, it's gonna get sillier and messier day by day by day."

She counter-argues that the case is her "cause" like the Boston Tea Party - "they dramatized an injustice. That's all I'm trying to do." During their meal, their song-writing neighbor Kip joins them, and plays a new song he has composed in her honor at the piano: Farewell, Amanda (a Cole Porter tune). Adam remains at the table and Amanda stands at the kitchen door - whistling as he sings. To illustrate the impending division in their marriage, Adam swings the door into her back - she yells: "Help!" She swings it back and it hits him squarely - he yells: "Ow!" She apologizes insincerely: "Pardon."

The court case is a ripe topic for newspaper headlines, turning it into a media circus: "Attinger Witnesses Face Further Probe." The dailies keep box scores: "SHE'S 0 - HE'S 0." In court, the trial proceeds with questions for each of the witnesses - Beryl, Warren, and then Doris are called to the stand in successive order.

Beryl presents her account of the attempted murder:

I seen Mrs. Attinger. And she was comin' after me with this gun of hers right in her two hands. So I guess I must have started to conk out or somethin' - excuse me, to faint or somethin.' So then Mr. Attinger grabbed me so's I shouldn't fall down, I guess - and then she, Mrs. Attinger, tried to kill me.

In cross-examination, Amanda asks what Beryl's "usual costume" was to receive Mr. Attinger - a "casual caller" - she wore a black silk lace negligee, slippers, stockings, and a hair ribbon. Supposedly, he had come to see her only to sell her a new health and accident insurance policy - according to Amanda, there is "remarkable foresight in this." And he had never touched or grabbed her, except "we used to shake hands quite a lot." Amanda retorts: "Did you enjoy it?"

The next day, Warren takes the stand as tabloid headlines proclaim: "ACCUSED LOVE NESTER ON STAND TODAY." He admits to not giving his wife gifts for her birthday, and to not loving his wife for at least three years. He complains that she was getting fat. Reluctantly, he admits to striking Doris a couple of times ("maybe a couple of times she tripped, or slipped"), but claims that she struck and knocked him down too "every day," especially after he fell asleep ("she used to hit me in my sleep...with her fist"). She wouldn't stay out all night, he concedes, which would have meant a restful night's sleep.

Doris' testimony is prefaced by the New York Globe's headlines: "DORIS ATTINGER ON STAND TO TELL ALL, Wife to Bare Full Story to Jury." On the stand, a demure, simple-minded Doris explains that Warren was trying to "make some kind of part-timer out of me." When she "caught him muzzlin' that tall job...clutchin'" with "no space" between them, she only meant to frighten Beryl and didn't mean to harm either of them. She didn't even take "careful aim" because she was nervous - she was only attempting to save her broken-up marriage and safeguard the lives of her three children: "I have three children. She was breakin' up my home." She sobs on the stand. Adam is more ruthless in his cross-examination:

That's right, Mrs. Attinger. You go right ahead and have a good cry. But somewhere in between those sobs, maybe you could find time to tell us just who it is you're crying for. Is it for Beryl Caighn, an innocent bystander to your sordid domestic failure? Or is it your husband, driven ill by your shrewishness? Or is it your children cursed with an unstable and irresponsible mother? Or could it be for yourself?

With no-holds-barred courtroom tactics, Amanda frequently objects to her husband's questioning, claiming: "Mrs. Attinger is a fine, healthy, a noble wife, mother...may I remind the court of the words of poet Congreve - "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned Nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned!"

That Evening

After the rough day in court, the couple are at home giving each other customary rubdowns and Swedish massages. In one of the film's classic scenes, while they wear only towels and lie on a massage table in their bedroom (from a low-angle shot), Adam receives the first expert massage and is tested with a smack to his behind. When he is finished, she takes the position on the table, while the radio plays "Farewell, Amanda" - he turns it off with a slur toward their next-door neighbor's hit song: "I got the station with the bad news." He delivers a resounding flesh-on-flesh smack on her behind while she sings the tune, reasoning that he resents her "shaking the law by the tail." She confronts him with eyes flashing, suspecting that he is antagonistic because of the court case. He stands there helpless with cold cream on both his hands, and when he get excited or challenged, he jumbles his syllables:

Adam: What are ya? Sore about a little slap?
Amanda: No.
Adam: Well, what then?
Amanda: (outraged at him) You meant that, didn't you? You really meant that.
Adam: Why, no, I...
Amanda: Yes, you did. I can tell. I know your type. I know a slap from a slug.
Adam: Well, OK, OK.
Amanda: I'm not so sure it is. I'm not so sure I care to expose myself to typical instinctive masculine brutality.
Adam: Oh come now.
Amanda: And it felt not only as though you meant it, but as though you felt you had a right to. I can tell.
Adam: What've you got back there? Radar equipment?
Amanda: You're really sore at me, aren't you?
Adam: Oh, don't be 'diriculous.' Ridiculous.
Amanda: There! Proves it!
Adam: All right, all right, I am sore. I am sore. What about it?
Amanda: Why are you?
Adam: You know why.
Amanda: You mean Kip? Just because he's having a little fun?
Adam: No. Because you're having a little fun. You're having the wrong kind of fun - down in that courtroom. You're shaking the law by the tail, and I don't like it. I'm ashamed of you, Amanda.
Amanda: Is that so?
Adam: Yes, that's so. We've had our little differences and I've always tried to see your point of view, but this time, you've got me stumped, baby.
Amanda: You haven't tried to see my point of view. You haven't even any respect for my, my, my -
Adam: There we go, there we go, there we go - Oh, oh, here we go again. The old juice. (She begins to cry because he refuses to understand her strong feelings and point of view.) Ah, guaranteed heart-melter. A few female tears...
Amanda: (sobbing) I can't help it.
Adam: ...stronger than any acid. But this time they won't work...
Amanda: I didn't...
Adam: You can cry from now until the time the jury comes in and it won't make you right and it won't win you that silly case.
Amanda: Adam! Please...
Adam: Nothing doing... (He leaves the room, upset about their argument)
Amanda: ...please try to understand.
Adam: (He returns) Ah, don't you want your rubdown? You want a drink?
Amanda: No.
Adam: Do you want anything? What, honey? (She kicks him in the shin) Ow!
Amanda: Let's all be manly! (She marches offscreen)

The next newspaper article insert is with caricatures of both Adam and Amanda as 'Punch and Judy' figures, striking each other with bats. The article is titled: "GOTHAM TODAY":

There's always something new under the sun in New York. The latest is the sensational trial of Doris Attinger, accused of shooting her husband, Warren, in a love triangle episode. The point isn't that the shooting took place, but that a husband and wife, attorneys both, are ranged on opposides of the case. Adam Bonner, assistant district Attorney, is prosecuting, and his wife, Amanda, is defending...

To "graphically illustrate" her point that "woman is the equal of man - is entitled to equality before the law," Amanda calls three "carefully selected" women to testify in the courtroom who have been highly successful in their varied careers - "each representing a particular branch of American womanhood, for not only one woman is on trial here, but all women." Although Adam objects that none of the witnesses have "any direct bearing on the case," Amanda pleads to the judge that she should be entitled to prove that women are intellectually and physically equal to men:

For years, women have been ridiculed, pampered, chucked under the chin. I ask you, on behalf of us all, be fair to the fair sex.

The first woman to testify is Dr. Margaret Brodeigh (Elizabeth Flournoy). With dropped pencils and another under-the-table conference, Amanda sticks out her tongue at her husband. Without pause, the witness, who is a thirty-three year old chemist, rattles off her current position: "Chief Consulting Chemist, Institute for Advanced Studies; Director Brodeigh-Halleck Laboratories; Civilian Consultant, United States Army Chemical Warfare Service; Advisor to Supply Officer, British Embassy; Director of Chemical Field Research, United States Department of Agriculture." And she has numerous degrees in the US and in Europe: "A.B., B.S. - Bryn Mawr, M.A., Ph.D., M.D. - Columbia...Diplome des Sciences Chimiques de la Sorbonne, Paris, Docteur 'Honora-Scholar de Philosophie, Universite..."

The second female witness is Mrs. McGrath (Polly Moran), a foreman who supervises 383 workers, mostly men including her husband who is employed "under me." The third is vaudevillian "show business" ("carnival, vaudeville, Ringling Brothers, night clubs") performer Miss Olympia LaPere (Hope Emerson), a large, stout woman who demonstrates somersaults across the courtroom floor. A former weightlifter, she holds Adam aloft over her head in front of the judge's podium. During the farcical scene, the courtroom erupts into utter chaos as the helpless, debased attorney is unable to effectively object to the irrelevance of her testimony - an "insult to the dignity of the Court."

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