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9 Classic Movies Starring Spencer Tracy

One of Hollywood's Greatest Leading Men

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Virtually peerless in natural talent and professional accomplishment, actor Spencer Tracy had an unparalleled career that spanned four decades and amassed nine Academy Award nominations, a record he continues to share with Laurence Olivier.

Also noted for his longtime companionship with Katharine Hepburn, Tracy had a difficult life behind the scenes as a alcoholic and philanderer consumed by misplaced guilt over his son's deafness.

Regardless of his personal travails, Tracy was a giant among leading men who starred in countless box office hits that remain classics to this day.

1. ‘Fury’ – 1936

MGM
After six years and parts in over two dozen pictures, Tracy had his first big hit with Fury and with it became a major Hollywood star. Helmed by Austrian director Fritz Lang in his American debut, this stark indictment of mob rule featured Tracy as Joe Wilson, a decent man on his way to being married who’s arrested in a small town for kidnapping a child, leading to a narrow escape from a lynch mob. Presumed dead, Wilson and his brothers plot revenge against the would-be vigilantes, only to be plagued by a guilty conscience. Tracy’s strength in this performance lay in his ability to project an everyman persona while not being afraid to delve into Wilson’s darker side.
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2. ‘Captains Courageous’ – 1937

MGM Home Entertainment
After receiving his first Oscar nomination for playing Father Tim Mullen in San Francisco (1936), Tracy took home the Academy Award for Best Actor following his performance as Manuel Fidello, a salty sea captain who rescues an overboard young boy (Freddie Bartholomew) used to a live of privilege and getting what he wants, and proceeds to teach the lad the value of friendship and hard work. Adapted from the Rudyard Kipling novel by Victor Fleming, Captains Courageous was also nominated for Best Picture, but it was Tracy’s turn as Manuel that cemented the actor’s place as one of classic Hollywood’s most bankable stars.
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3. ‘Boys Town’ – 1938

MGM Home Entertainment
Tracy won his second – and last – Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as the real-ife Father Edward J. Flanagan in Boys Town. Flanagan founded and ran the famous Omaha, Nebraska Boys Town orphanage for disadvantaged youth, only to run into trouble in the form of a delinquent, Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney), who tries three times to escape the youth center before forming a bond with Flanagan. Tracy thanked the real Father Flanagan in his Academy Awards acceptance speech, while MGM bestowed the priest with his own statuette. Three years later, Tracy and Rooney reprised their roles for the inferior sequel, Men of Boys Town (1941).
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4. ‘Woman of the Year’ – 1942

MGM Home Entertainment
Directed by George Stevens and produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, this winning romantic comedy was the first of nine collaborations Tracy had with Katharine Hepburn and ranks among their very best. In the film, Tracy played a rowdy sports writer who engages in a war of words with a more erudite foreign correspondent (Hepburn) after she uses her column to express her negative feelings towards sports. Of course, the two fall in love when they actually meet face-to-face and eventually get married, only to discover just how different their lives truly are. The onscreen chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn is unmistakable as Woman of the Year marked the beginning of a quiet and rather complicated love affair that lasted until his death in 1967.
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5. ‘Adam’s Rib’ – 1949

MGM Home Entertainment
A sharp and witty romantic comedy directed by the great George Cukor, Adam’s Rib may well go down as being the best film in the lifelong collaboration between Tracy and Hepburn. Here the real-life couple played a happily married couple and competing attorneys on opposite sides of a headline-making case, with Tracy as the prosecutor and Hepburn defending a distraught wife (Judy Holliday) accused of attempted murder against her cheating husband (Tom Ewell). Engulfed by a media circus, Tracy and Hepburn comically do battle with each other both in the courtroom and at home over anything that touches upon legal and gender issues.
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6. ‘Father of the Bride’ – 1950

MGM Home Entertainment
Having been shut out of Oscar contention since his win for Boys Town, Tracy received his first nomination in 12 years for his performance as Stanley Banks, a well-to-do lawyer whose life is turned upside down when his beloved daughter (Elizabeth Taylor) decides to marry. Stanley’s stable existence suddenly becomes a whirlwind of events – from meeting the in-laws to hosting the engagement party to engaging the groom (Don Taylor) in a man-to-man talk – all while coming to the realization that his daughter has finally grown into a woman. A major box office hit at the time of release, this lighthearted comedy showcased Tracy in one of his most indelible performances.
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7. ‘Inherit the Wind’ – 1960

CBS Video
Directed by the socially-minded Stanley Kramer, Inherit the Wind features an extraordinary cast headed by Tracy in this fictionalized take on the famed Scopes-Monkey Trial of 1925. Here the names are changed, but the situation remains the same – a Tennessee school teacher (Dick York) is put on trial for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, leading to a highly publicized courtroom battle between a fiery defense attorney (Tracy) modeled after Clarence Darrow and a fundamentalist prosecutor (Fredric March) in the vein of William Jennings Bryan. Leading the media charge is an H.L. Mencken-like reporter (Gene Kelly), who openly mocks the defenders of creationism. Tense and still topical, Inherit the Wind has remained one of Tracy’s finest dramatic performances.
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8. ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ – 1961

MGM Home Entertainment
Reuniting with Kramer, Tracy delivered another Oscar-caliber performance in this dramatic depiction of the post-World War II international tribunal that dealt with the horrific crimes committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Tracy oversees the proceedings as the level-headed Judge Dan Haywood, who presides over a trial of four German judges who colluded with the Nazis to sentence innocent men to death. Featuring an all-star cast that included Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Montgomery Clift, Judgment at Nuremberg is one of those rare pictures where the film itself is the true star, though Tracy does more than hold his own among several outstanding performances.
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9. ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?’ – 1967

Sony Pictures
Touching upon the then-highly sensitive subject of interracial marriage, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner marked the ninth onscreen pairing between Tracy and Hepburn, the ninth career Best Actor nomination for Tracy, and the final film he ever made. Tracy and Hepburn played a husband and wife who proudly raised their daughter (Katharine Houghton) to ignore social norms and to think for herself. But that still does not prepare them for the shock when she returns home from vacation with her African-American fiancé (Sidney Poitier). Of course, her parents refuse to give their blessing for the marriage, leading to a volatile battle of wills in order to win their approval. Tracy’s performance was nothing short of extraordinary, especially in light of his ill-health, which had been deteriorating for several years. In fact, Tracy was slowly dying as he delivered his last performance and died of a heart attack just weeks after finishing the film.
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