Pat and Mike

The Pat of Pat and Mike (1952) is Patricia Pemberton (Katharine Hepburn), a widowed athletics coach at Pacific Technical College and an expert athlete—except when she is in the presence of her fiancé, college administrator Collier Weld (William Ching). After a frustrating golf game with Collier and a potential college donor, Pat is encouraged by a golf pro (Jim Backus) to take part in a tournament. Her playing catches the eye of Mike Conovan (Spencer Tracy), a somewhat shady sports manager, who tries—but fails—to convince her to throw the tournament for his financial benefit. After an argument with Collier, Pat decides to try a career in professional sports and travels to New York to sign on as Mike’s client. Mike begins training Pat, and she demonstrates her expertise in a variety of sports, although she loses an important tennis match when she notices Collier is in the audience. Mike feels his manhood threatened when Pat uses judo to defend him from his sinister business partners, but when Collier catches Mike in Pat’s room and gets the wrong impression, Pat finally rejects her unsuitable fiancé and she and Mike acknowledge that their relationship is about more than just sports.

The husband-and-wife team of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin wrote the screenplay for Pat and Mike “on spec,” designing the title roles for Tracy and Hepburn. The writers were friends with Hepburn and well aware of her real-life athletic prowess—she had even been a junior golf champion as a child. Gordon and Kanin had written the Oscar-nominated script for the most recent Tracy-Hepburn comedy, Adam’s Rib, and Kanin’s older brother Michael had written their first film together, 1942’s Woman of the Year, which had also marked the beginning of the stars’ offscreen partnership.

Adam’s Rib director George Cukor was the first and only choice to direct Pat and Mike. According to Cukor, the writing team “sent us the first eight pages they had written and a few days later we met with Kate and Spencer at my house to read them through. It was the most marvelous thing to see Spencer run through it. He suddenly became the character and he did it beautifully. He never talked much about acting per se, but he was very serious and very thoroughly prepared.” Hepburn was under contract to M-G-M and the studio passed on the script at first, but Gordon and Kanin resisted selling it to another studio since it was so clearly written for the stars. A year later, the studio reconsidered and hired Cukor to direct—the filmmaker was eager to reteam with Tracy and Hepburn: “The reason this comedy, and its predecessor Adam’s Rib, worked was that none of us took ourselves very seriously during the writing and preparation. We batted ideas around like tennis balls, we all felt the lines and situations without any ghastly solemnity. If we all laughed, a line went in.”

Filming began in February 1952, with scenes shot at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles as well as on the M-G-M backlot. Hepburn played golf and tennis in the film against such real-life sports stars as Babe Didrikson Zaharias (subject of the 1975 TV biopic Babe) and Gussie Moran as well as tennis star Frank Parker, who helped coach Hepburn for the role and convinced her to do all her own sports scenes: “She was a little afraid about her form and thought she ought to use a double, but I told her there was no reason why she couldn’t do all the shots herself.”

Pat and Mike proved to be the last of the Hepburn features that Cukor would direct (the pair could not find a suitable project in the 1960s, but did reunite for two TV movies in the ’70s), but the filmmaker as always had high praise for his star: “Kate Hepburn was a combination of herself, her secretary, and Eleanor Roosevelt in [Pat and Mike], a woman that absolutely will not be dominated. She and Spencer Tracy both knew that their personalities had become every well known to their audiences, so they were careful to play scenes very economically. I said to them over and over that they weren’t showing their faces to the camera enough. They said they were showing them as much as they should and I began to see that they were right.” For the role of Mike’s boxer client Davie Hucko, Cukor hired Aldo Ray, a former Navy frogman and small-town constable, whom the director had previously cast in his breakthrough role in The Marrying Kind. Ray treasured the memory of working with the celebrated stars: “They were beautiful. They watched over me. Great stars like Tracy and Hepburn are always easy to work with. If you’re cocky and go in with an attitude, they would probably discipline you.”

“Tracy-Hepburn” has become shorthand over the years for a particular type of sophisticated romantic comedy, often imitated but rarely successful (the Nick Nolte-Julia Roberts flop I Love Trouble was one of the more recent attempts to recreate the Tracy-Hepburn magic), and Pat and Mike is one of the finest of their collaborations. The lengthy sports scenes drag down the early part of the film, but as soon as the Tracy-Hepburn pairing dominates the story, the film becomes a classic, with Cukor’s long takes spotlighting the natural, effortless rhythm of the stars. While William Ching is unable to redeem the role of the tiresomely unsuitable fiancé, the supporting cast is full of memorable performers, many of them early in their careers, including Jim Backus (as the golf pro who first recognizes Pat’s talents), Chuck Connors (as a policeman), Our Gang’s Carl “Alfalfa” Spitzer (as a busboy) and especially Charles Buchinski (later known as Charles Bronson) as one of Mike’s gangster partners who is bested by the judo-wielding Pat. In the early 1970s, Peter Stone developed a short-lived sitcom version of Adam’s Rib, starring Blythe Danner and Ken Howard; Stone also announced a Pat and Mike sitcom, to star Buddy Hackett in the Spencer Tracy role, but it never materialized.

Raksin’s score for Pat and Mike took a similar approach to the one Miklós Rózsa had used for Adam’s Rib, providing brief scene-setting and transitional cues but leaving much of the dialogue-driven comedy unscored. The main title introduces one of the score’s two main themes, a rollicking melody, variations on which Raksin later uses for the tentative romance between the athlete and her manager, with the boisterous version reprised for the film’s end title. The second theme is a droll, sauntering melody associated with Mike and his pursuit of Pat—both professionally and romantically. Most of the cues are brief, including a gentle “academia” piece for the opening moments at Pacific Tech and a classic bit of “big city music” for the establishing shots of New York City. One exception is the lengthy scene in which Pat, intimated by the sight of Collier watching her tennis match, experiences hallucinations of a tiny racket, a rising net, and a tennis ball multiplying into several more balls: Raksin supplied a suitably wild and energetic stand-alone cue. Pat and Mike was one of Raksin’s few comedy scores, and his only collaboration with Cukor, but his lively music was the perfect fit for the Tracy-Hepburn classic, and only makes one wish he had worked more often in the genre. — 

This premiere release of the complete score to Pat and Mike—brief as it is (11:47)—has been mastered from ¼″ monaural tapes of what were original 35mm three-track recordings (long since discarded). A light stereo ambiance has been added to enhance listenability.

22. Main Title
A boisterous presentation of Raksin’s main theme for Patricia Pemberton (Katharine Hepburn) plays through the opening titles, which feature caricatures of her and Mike Conovan (Spencer Tracy) riding a bicycle. In the film, the music is dressed with rhythmic sound effects of tennis rackets and golf clubs striking their respective balls. Once the credits run their course, the racing activity of the main theme is answered by a wholesome, alma mater-styled melody for a transition to Pacific Technical College; college administrator Collier Weld (William Ching) hops into his car and drives over to the campus gymnasium, where he obnoxiously honks the horn to announce his impatience to his fiancée, Pat.
23. Enter Sneezing
Pat qualifies for the Women’s National Match Play Championship; Raksin introduces his sauntering theme for Mike (Spencer Tracy) as the sports manager and his associate, Barney Grau (Sammy White), sneak through the window of Pat’s empty hotel room to snoop around. A vase of flowers prompts Mike into a sneezing fit, which the score captures with comedic woodwind runs. When the men hear Pat’s key in the lock, they hide in her bathroom and the cue tapers off with an air of playful panic.
Exit Frowning
After Pat discovers the intruders in her bathroom, Mike makes her an offer: He suggests that she throw the tournament, intentionally coming in second, and help them both rake in the cash. She declines and the sauntering theme is reprised as her guests exit her room through the open window, with Mike lamenting Pat’s honest nature.
24. On Her Own
Collier’s presence at the final two holes of the climactic golf match costs Pat the tournament. Rather than return home with Collier, she becomes emotional and abandons him as their train pulls out of the station, the score responding with a bittersweet rendition of the main theme. The scene shifts to a New York City street outside Mike’s office, to the accompaniment of enthusiastic orchestral hustle and bustle.
Tennis, Anyone
Mike takes on Pat as his client and is excited to learn that she is proficient in several sports other than golf—a transition to Pittsburgh for a mixed doubles tennis match is underscored with heraldic material developed out of the “Main Title.”
Tennis, Everyone
Pat and her partner win the match; Raksin reprises and extends his “Tennis, Anyone” material for a brief montage featuring establishing shots of Denver and San Francisco with corresponding billboards that specify the details of Pat’s newest competitions.
25. Net Ballbusch
Pat competes in a singles match at the San Francisco Cow Palace, not far from Pacific Tech. She wins the first set and leads in the second but becomes agitated when Collier arrives in the audience. Raksin supplements unnerving, taunting variations on the main theme with a nightmarish circular motive for a series of hallucinations Pat experiences: she imagines that the court’s net is gigantic; that her opponent is armed with an oversized racket while her own has shrunken; and that Collier has mysteriously replaced the officials. When Pat is assailed by a cluster of imaginary tennis balls, she passes out and the scene transitions to her dressing room as Mike revives her with smelling salts—the score quietly lingers with unease as she comes to. (Raksin’s cue title makes reference to Peter Ballbusch, Metro’s montage expert, who supervised the creation of this sequence.)
26. If Only You Were
As Mike oversees Pat’s training regimen, the two grow closer; after he flirtatiously sees her to her room one night, she imagines his face taking the place of Collier’s in a photo on her nightstand. A dreamy variation on Pat’s theme gives way to Mike’s melody for her hallucination, the tune continuing through a cut to Mike visiting his racehorse, Little Nell, in its stable. Raksin reprises Pat’s theme as her face is superimposed over the horse’s, with Mike’s theme closing the cue as he tells the horse, “If only you were.”
Happy Hucko
After Pat witnesses Mike berating his dimwitted client, boxer Davie Hucko (Aldo Ray), she approaches the athlete and offers words of wisdom, encouraging him to be his own man and inspiring him to become a better fighter. A comical flourish marks the end of Pat’s interplay with Davie while a reprisal of the “Tennis Anyone” motive plays for a close-up on a “Man About Sports” newspaper column announcing that Pat will defend her title in the Women’s Pro Golf Matches.
Sweet Clarinade
Pat’s honesty rubs off on Mike and—despite the disapproval of his shady investors—he refuses to allow her to throw the forthcoming golf tournament. At a bar and grill, Pat and Mike enjoy a steak dinner to the accompaniment of a jazzy source rendition of the main theme. The piece ends just as their meal is interrupted by two of Mike’s partners, both of whom Pat proceeds to beat up outside the establishment.
27. Teed Off
On the eve of the tournament, Collier shows up at Pat’s hotel with intention of watching her compete. Mike implores him not to attend the match the next day but Collier stubbornly insists on being there, with a comical reprise of Mike’s theme sounding as the manager stews. The theme receives a troubled development as Pat tosses and turns in her hotel bed, while jazz writing mingles with light suspense material as Collier paces around his room, internally debating whether to pay Pat a late-night visit. Mike’s theme resumes as the manager lets himself into Pat’s room, with her tune sounding warmly as he conducts his ritual of checking her windows and covers while she sleeps. The flowers beside her bed cause Mike to sneeze, waking Pat; although she is initially startled by his presence, her theme suggests that she is touched when he explains his custom of looking in on her. Mike exits her room just as Collier arrives outside and assumes that he is sleeping with Pat. The cue closes with Collier’s agitated suspense material for Weld barging into Pat’s room to confront her.
28. End Title and Cast
Pat resolves to be with Mike after she and Collier end their relationship. Before she takes her final swing of the golf tournament, she looks up to see Collier’s cold gaze but she is comforted when Mike offers a wink of approval. Once her last putt wins the tournament, she and her new beau walk off together to a statement of Mike’s theme, which builds to a grand conclusion for the end title card. The closing credits play out to a reprise of the “Main Title” version of Pat’s theme. —