Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Life With Father (1947)

Director: Michael Curtiz
William Powell, Irene Dunne, Elizabeth Taylor, Edmund Gwenn, Zasu Pitts, Jimmy Lydon, Emma Dunn, Moroni Olsen, Elisabeth Risdon, Derek Scott

In 1883 New York, bombastic Madison Avenue patriarch William Powell (as Clarence "Clare" Day) scares off a succession of servants chosen by his sweet-natured wife, Irene Dunne (as Vinnie). Mr. Powell directs Ms. Dunne to run the house like a business, but his bark is worse than his bite. The couple is raising four red-haired sons - violinist Jimmy Lydon (as Clarence Jr.) is getting ready for Yale, girl-conscious Martin Milner (as John) dabbles with electricity, baseball fan Johnny Calkins (as Whitney) is practicing for his confirmation, and youngest Derek Scott (as Harlan) is confused about his dog's gender. Dunne gets the home ready for a visit from favorite cousin Zasu Pitts (as Cora Cartwright) and her beautiful teenage ward, Elizabeth Taylor (as Mary Skinner). Ms. Taylor becomes a romantic interest for Mr. Lydon, who wasn't sure he liked girls before her arrival. But, the cute young couple may be compromised by religion - Lydon is Episcopalian while Taylor is Methodist. Additionally, Powell, who dislikes house-guests, reveals a family secret - he was never baptized. Dunne wants the situation remedied, fearing God may deny her husband entry to Heaven. But, Powell believes God would make an exception in his case. The above cast, including Edmund Gwenn (as Reverend Lloyd), play their Christian manners and customs beautifully, under expert direction from Michael Curtiz. Powell was "Oscar" nominated for "Best Actor" of the year and won the "New York Film Critics" award (with his then current "The Senator Was Indiscreet" mentioned as a secondary concern). In the "Film Daily" poll, Mr. Curtiz' direction was the year's sixth best. Producer Robert Buckner, Dunne, Lyndon, debuting Milner, musician Max Steiner, and the set decoration are also award-worthy. Writer Donald Ogden Stewart adapted the long-running stage play well. "Life with Father" was once more highly regarded, and may yet come back into favor. Its datedness, often stated as a deterrent, is entirely appropriate. And, it does seem to go on just a little too long, but it's still a classic period piece. Unfortunately, (Powell as) Day's famous line, "I'm going to be baptized, damn it!" was bastardized to simply "I'm going to be baptized." With modern technology being what it is, the stinging "…damn it!" should be digitally reinstated.

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