‘Without Love’ From 1945: A Practical Helpmate

The Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy film is unique because the spouses try to prove that a marriage can be successful without love.
Tiffany Brannan

R | 1h 51mins | Romance, Comedy | 1945

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were known as unconventional actors. However, in their movies together they usually played very conventional characters. In “Without Love” from 1945, Hepburn plays a wife who is a true helpmate to her husband, played by Tracy.

It was the third movie Hepburn and Tracy made together, following “Woman of the Year” and “Keeper of the Flame.” As in all but three other of their movies, Hepburn and Tracy are married for much of the runtime. This story is really unique and interesting because the spouses try to prove that a marriage can be successful without love.

Scientist Needs a Room

Scientist Pat Jamieson (Tracy) is working on developing an oxygen mask that functions at high altitudes to help the military during World War II. When he arrives in Washington, D.C., he desperately needs a place to work, but he doesn’t have a place for him and his little dog, Dizzy, to sleep. He shares a taxi with drunken socialite Quentin Ladd (Keenan Wynn), who lets him spend the night at his cousin’s house.
Pat Jamieson (Spencer Tracy) and Jamie Rowan (Katharine Hepburn), in "Without Love." (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Pat Jamieson (Spencer Tracy) and Jamie Rowan (Katharine Hepburn), in "Without Love." (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

The next morning, Jamieson meets Jamie Rowan (Hepburn), a young widow who has come to town to interview potential caretakers for her house. He tries to persuade her to hire him, since the house’s basement is an ideal workspace for his experiments. Although she hadn’t planned on hiring a single man for the job, she agrees when she learns about his project, since her father was a famous scientist who taught her the importance of science as a public service.

That evening, Jamieson and Rowan have a candid conversation about their different experiences with love. Jamieson is completely soured on romance because he was hopelessly in love with a selfish, flighty girl in Paris. Rowan has also sworn off love because nothing can match the relationship she had with her beloved husband before his tragic, early death.

Because they share this mutual understanding, after they pass several weeks apart, Rowan suggests to Jamieson that they get married. Although it sounds crazy, her idea is a sensible plan for a platonic marriage, allowing them to live together while working side by side on his oxygen mask. He accepts her offer, but they find out that being married without love isn’t as simple as it seems.

Pat Jamieson (Spencer Tracy) and Jamie Rowan (Katharine Hepburn) test an oxygen mask, in "Without Love." (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Pat Jamieson (Spencer Tracy) and Jamie Rowan (Katharine Hepburn) test an oxygen mask, in "Without Love." (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Man’s Helpmate

“Without Love” shows how two people who have given up on finding happiness and companionship find both in married life together. The idea of marrying without even the hope of love baffles Jamieson, who has cynically sworn off romance because of his painful romantic experience.

Rowan is initially offended by Jamieson’s frank assertion that she is being selfish in shutting herself off from the rest of the world. However, after thinking about his words, she realizes that he’s right and decides that she needs to rejoin the living and dedicate her life to doing something to help others, like aiding the war effort through scientific developments. She determines to become Jamieson’s helpmate.

Rowan realizes that Jamieson is also running away from life, just in a different way. After getting over the humor of the suggestion, he sees the sense in it. Without the complications of emotions like passion, jealousy, and desire, they make an excellent team.

However, the Jamiesons learn that it’s impossible to be exclusively scientific about a situation when human beings are involved. Although society, literature, and the arts have promoted the idea that marriage must be based on nothing but passionate romantic attraction, “Without Love” shows that mutual admiration and the desire and ability to help each other are good bases for a marriage, which can grow into genuine fondness and love.

Pat Jamieson (Spencer Tracy) and Jamie Rowan (Katharine Hepburn), in "Without Love." (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Pat Jamieson (Spencer Tracy) and Jamie Rowan (Katharine Hepburn), in "Without Love." (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

An All-Star Romance

Tracy and Hepburn are in excellent form in this movie. Although not as fast-paced and intense as their more famous and hard-biting films, “Without Love” shows off this dynamic duo’s talent for light comedy. Tracy is perfect as the bitter scientist with a swollen head and a chip on his shoulder, and Hepburn is charming and warm as the woman who restores his faith in love.

The cast is rounded out by a young Lucille Ball as Jamie’s wisecracking business manager, a hilarious Keenan Wynn as her fickle beau, Carl Esmond as a ladies’ man who tries to romance Rowan, and Felix Bressart as Jamieson’s lovable colleague. With the right blend between comedy and sincerity, “Without Love” is a delightful classic film.

Theatrical poster for "Without Love." (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Theatrical poster for "Without Love." (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
You can rent or buy this movie on Amazon Prime Video or on DVD at Amazon, eBay, and Barnes and Noble.
‘Without Love’ Director: Harold S. Bucquet Stars: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes Not Rated Release Date: March 22, 1945 Rating: 4 out of 5
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Tiffany Brannan is a 22-year-old opera singer, Hollywood historian, vintage fashion enthusiast, and conspiracy film critic, advocating purity, beauty, and tradition on Instagram as @pure_cinema_diva. Her classic film journey started in 2016 when she and her sister started the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society to reform the arts by reinstating the Motion Picture Production Code. She launched Cinballera Entertainment last summer to produce original performances which combine opera, ballet, and old films in historic SoCal venues.
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