Poitier’s best-known performance remains, in many ways, his most controversial, but not for the interracial romance at the film’s center. This was Poitier playing a character as flawless as they come—he’s a good-looking widower and a doctor with a flawless résumé (including a variety of humanitarian causes), as well as impeccable, old-fashioned manners. Even in 1967, many saw the film as out-of-date, and bristled at the suggestion that a Black man might be welcomed into a white family—but only if he were a virtual saint.
Those critiques are all legitimate, but they also miss some of the things that the film gets right, starting with the portrayal of parents Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn not as stereotypical bigots, but instead as aging liberals forced to reevaluate their ideals in the cold light of day. Yesterday’s open-minded progressives often become today’s reactionaries—a phenomenon that’s no less true today than it was in the 1960s, and that lends the film a timelessness. There’s also the facts of Poitier’s performance: The actor lends tremendous warmth, humor, and humanity to John Prentice, a character who would be utterly insufferable in lesser hands. It’s a movie that was largely pitched at white audiences, and many of its problems rest there, but it’s still a charming romantic comedy that runs on the strengths of its lead performances.
Where to stream: Starz