The extra-marital relationship between Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy was easy to sentimentalise in more censorious times. She is the prototype of the independent, liberal woman, a trendsetter wearing trousers when others disapproved. Unique and ‘difficult’ – by the tenor of the time – Hepburn went through life on her own terms (which included telling the studio bosses to stuff themselves). She was also a survivor and lived till over 90 where her splendidly dotty memoirs are simply entitled Me.

Tracy was, perhaps, the most talented actor the Hollywood studio system ever produced and a model professional. He was an Irish Roman Catholic (an important distinction with the blue stocking and, in fact, all their films demonstrate how opposites attract) and suffered from the toxic curses of repression and alcoholism. These never really impeded his stellar career but crucified his health over time. Tracy was lucky to make it over 60 and their last film together, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) in which he plays a newspaper editor grappling with his prejudices, is most moving as he was under a settled hopeless expectation of death.

Their association began when she asked to see him in preparation for The Woman of The Year (1942). She is alleged to have said to him or to a producer that she thought she was too tall for him. He (or the producer) is alleged to have responded that he would have no trouble dragging her down to his level! I do not think it was his roughness that attracted her but that enormous talent which never really was destroyed by the lifestyle.

With respect to this series, in Adam’s Rib (1949) Tracy plays crusty but decent Republican Adam Bonner, a New York assistant district attorney. Hepburn plays an independent (slightly over-dramatized) feminist practitioner, who also happens to be his wife, Amanda. One morning they read in the newspapers that a woman shot her husband without killing him because of an extra-marital affair. They argue over the case. She rushes to her defence. He thinks the whole thing is legally dubious. The French, of course, have a crime passional, but it is unknown as a defence in the UK, or for that the US. So, a trial begins with both on different sides, juxtaposed with out-of-court complexities which are damaging their relationship.

Amanda argues women and men are equal, and that her client was forced into the situation by her husband’s adultery and emotional abuse. She wins. Adam is horrified. That night he confronts her with a gun pretending outrage at her association with his friend, a talented composer. Her response is: ‘You’ve no right to do this – nobody does!’ He then eats the fake gun, which is made of liquorice, and the point is made. Later, he turns on the waterworks to show how easy it is to fabricate emotion.

The film’s point about double standards is still relevant today. Those who argue for the reversal of the burden of proof are talking tosh but has the pendulum swung too far in favour of victim over defendant? Do bad character reforms lead to exclusion of often worthwhile evidence? Advocates have to unpick all of this, reconstruct fact from fiction, ascertain whether memories are tainted or worked upon by leading questions and inducements. A Sisyphean task. Adam’s Rib serves as a reminder that fact and evidence should be prioritised and carefully assembled in a technical way; that rhetorical emotion, by advocates or witnesses, be subjected to careful scrutiny.

And in a casual remark at the end of the film, Tracy uses the important phrase, ‘Vive la difference.’ In today’s divisive world, gatekeepers of the justice system – judges, advocates and jurors – should always keep this in mind. Life is impoverished otherwise.