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The movie, Adam's Rib came out in 1949. It was about a married couple, both lawyers, facing off against each other in court, about whether a woman, as opposed to a man, could invoke the "unwritten law" that a passionate shooting of an adulterous spouse was not murder. It had a further theme that the wife won the case, and was considering running against her husband for judge. My understanding was that women professionals were rare (at least in the United States) going into the 1950s.

Having been born in the U.S. during the 1950s, I remember the idea of women's equality being "discussed" in the 1950s and 1960s, but not gaining wide acceptance until the 1970s (or, at earliest, the very late 1960s). Kramer vs. Kramer, a movie about a father (rather than mother) getting custody of the couple's young boy, was the "mirror image" of Adam's Rib, was released in 1979.

So was the ethos of Adam's Rib 20 to 30 years ahead of its time? How was the movie viewed when it was first released?

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I'm not certain it was as "ahead of its time" as historical hindsight may suggest. The story was partly based, after all, on a real-life case. To quote from by Felicia Feaster & Frank Miller's synopsis of the film on TCM's website:

Adam's Rib took its inspiration from a real court case. Actress-writer Ruth Gordon and her husband Garson Kanin were driving to their country home under perilous conditions when, to distract her, Kanin asked his wife to tell him an interesting story. The first to come to mind was the story of actors Raymond Massey and Adrianne Allen's divorce. They had turned for legal help to married lawyers William and Dorothy Whitney, who did their jobs so well that after the case was closed the lawyers divorced each other and married their clients. The idea of husband-and-wife lawyers intrigued the husband-and-wife writers, who sat up till four the next morning discussing the story possibilities.

Just because you assume that married female professionals were rare at that time period, note how many are showing up in the anecdote. :)

You may also want to consider that Woman of the Year had been made 7 years previously (1942), in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey played married reporters. And His Girl Friday was made in 1940. I'd suggest that the portrayal of female professionals on an equal with their male counterparts in Adam and Eve may be less of an anomaly than you think.

  • Actually William Strauss and Neil Howe made a point in their book, "Generations." Husband and wife teams were actually somewhat common among the "peers" of the so-called World War II generation. Things took a step back with following, so-called Silent generation, when "children," particularly girls, were "seen and not heard." (Warren Buffett's first wife was pushed into an arranged marriage with him.) The women's right's banner was finally taking up by the Boomers, some 20-30 years later. – Tom Au Jul 8 '15 at 19:47
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No. It wasn't ahead of it's time. "Around 24 centuries ago, Plato, according to Elaine Hoffman Baruch, "argued for the total political and sexual equality of women, advocating that they be members of his highest class, ... those who rule and fight" (Wikipedia: Early Feminism). It wasn't even ahead of it's time cinematographically. Back in the day the male dominated film industry was disinclined to address feminism on screen to any great degree, but there were films being made even as early as 1899 that pass The Bechdel Test (Cinderella). Adams Rib was well received critically and is considered to be a great, classic, romantic comedy (Awards & Honors)

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    Sorry, but I fail to see what this has to do with the question or with Adam's Rib (which you didn't even discuss); The OP didn't ask if the film invented feminism but rather if it displayed unusually modern concepts for a 40s film in America. Do you have anything to say about the film's plot, dialogue, themes, performances and gender roles? – Walt Jun 23 '15 at 4:44
  • Sorry you're having a struggle with reading comprehension. I'll try to make things simpler for you. The questions were, 1) "... was the ethos of Adam's Rib 20 to 30 years ahead of its time? ". The answer is, "No... ". which I explained further and 2) "How was the movie viewed when it was first released?" which I also answered. The original questioner didn't ask about any of those matters you listed. As for your questions? I chose to answer the original questions because they were interesting. I didn't choose to, nor do I agree to, answer your questions. – Diana Graham Jun 23 '15 at 5:25
  • If the OP disagrees with me, I'll shut up. But please don't try to convince me that an answer completely ignoring the content of the movie in question answers anything about it. If you haven't seen Adam's Rib, I recommend it. IIRC it's quite nice. – Walt Jun 23 '15 at 5:51
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    @DianaGraham "Sorry you're having a struggle with reading comprehension" - There isn't any reason for such an unnecessarily defensive and sarcastic response either. Sorry you're having a struggle with not taking constructive criticism personal. Walt simply wanted to point out in which way he thinks that your answer doesn't adress the question. If you don't think so, fine. If you try to convice him that it is an answer to the question, fine. If you don't care about his opinion, fine. But please do all this in the proper tone. – Napoleon Wilson Jun 23 '15 at 7:32
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    And I'm sorry if I came off as offensive; that certainly wasn't my intent, nor is it to discourage answerers. This question was (rightfully IMHO) placed in 'analysis' and I feel a bit protective of this tag and have high expectations of the answers there, esp. when they're about classic movies. – Walt Jun 23 '15 at 9:15

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