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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life with Father (1947)

So I've decided to do another old favorite of mine today.  I don't remember how I discovered this film, TCM probably, but I've loved it for years.  I bought the book at the swap meet the other day and in all probability, it's infinitely better than the movie, so before I go and ruin one of my favorite movies for myself, I'm going to review it.

Life with Father is based on a play by the same name, so the film version is very stage-y.  There isn't a lot of action so this isn't a good pick for someone who demands a lot of sex/explosions/guns from their movies.  If you like sophisticated comedy, read on.  Life with Father is like the shitmydadsays of the 1930's.   It's mostly from the perspective of Clarence Day Jr. and relates stories of growing up with his eccentric stockbroker father in 1890's New York City.

Life with Father stars William Powell in the title role, who is probably the most amazing actor of all time.  Check him out in My Man Godfrey and The Thin Man if you want to see him being super amazing.  Also starring is the lovely Irene Dunne.  The rest of the cast is a bunch of nobodies, except for a very young Elizabeth Taylor. 

So Clarence Day Sr. is a man who likes everything to be just so. He is eternally frustrated that his housekeeping staff, his cook, his wife, his children, his milkman, his creditors, his mailman and New York taxi drivers just fail to get it. 

The Day Family.  just-so

In a nutshell:  Mrs. Day's cousin comes to visit, which annoys Mr. Day.  She brings a young lady with her, Mary Skinner (Elizabeth Taylor) and she begins a flirtation with Clarence Jr., which annoys Mr. Day.  Junior and Mary discover that their love can never be because she is a Methodist and he is an Episcopalian so she begins prodding into Mr. Day's religious history, which annoys Mr. Day.  Mrs. Day discovers that Mr. Day was never baptized and so she begins panicking that her marriage is invalid and that her husband won't be going to heaven, which annoys Mr. Day.  And So On...

Hordes of Gypsies

It's the scenes and the dialogue that are funny, not so much the action itself.

This scene reminds me a lot of Justin Halpern's dad:  Mr. and Mrs. Day are having an argument over a bill from a department store. 

Mrs. -- I try to keep down expenses.  You know yourself Cousin Phoebe spends twice as much as we do.
Mr. -- Don't talk to me about your Cousin Phoebe!
Mrs. -- You talk about your own relatives enough.
Mr. -- That's not fair, Vinnie.  When I talk about my relatives, I criticize them.

And then there is the sub-story of Junior's flirtation with Mary Skinner.  It's horribly awkward, but charming.  And then Mr. Day gives Junior what is probably the best "facts of life" talk in the history of cinema. 

I've never seen the play version, but from what I've heard, it's better than the film because, of course, the censors had their way with it.  The last line is meant to be, "I'm going to be baptized, dammit!" but the "dammit" had to be omitted.  Directors, writers and actors back then had to be a lot more creative and subtle in how they told their risque jokes.  Pay attention when you watch old movies, sometimes an actors choice of words or gesture will seem a bit dirty, chances are, it's completely intentional.  Life with Father is full of them.

1 comment:

  1. An american actor, William Powell is paired in many films with Myrna Loy.