Saturday Night Cinema: Life With Father


More Liz! For those, like me, who can't get enough of her fabu stuff :)

Saturday Night Cinema tonight features an endearing performance by Elizabeth Taylor in Life With Father. Of course I'd love to run Suddenly Last Summer or watch the onscreen love affair blossom between Liz and Dick in Cleopatra, but alas, there are few of La Liz's films in the public domain.

And while I have little use for the New York Times, as regular Atlas readers are no doubt painfully aware, I love running their movie reviews, most especially from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, because it reflects a more urbane, humane, and moral culture, a lovely aesthetic, and profound love of the American exceptionalism that underlies everything and infuses every aspect of the golden era of movie making and America (before the cultural and intellectual coup). Glorious to behold.

' Life With Father,' Starring William Powell, Irene Donne, Recaptures Charm That Made the Lindsay-Crouse Play a Hit
Published: August 16, 1947

A round-robin of praise is immediately in order for all those, and they were many indeed, who assisted in filming "Life With Father." All that the fabulous play had to offer in the way of charm, comedy, humor and gentle pathos is beautifully realized in the handsomely Technicolored picture, which opened yesterday at the Warner (formerly the Hollywood) Theatre. William Powell is every inch Father, from his carrot patch dome to the tip of his button-up shoes. Even his voice, always so distinctive, has taken on a new quality, so completely has Mr. Powell managed to submerge his own personality. His Father is not merely a performance; it is character delineation of a high order and he so utterly dominates the picture that even when he is not on hand his presence is still felt.

The Warner Brothers have kept faith with both the letter and the spirit of the play fashioned by Howard Lindsay and Russel Grouse from the late Clarence Day's memoirs of his father. Most of the action still takes place in the living room of the Day residence, 420 Madison Avenue. The atmosphere of the period, 1883, is recaptured with all the rich flavor of a Currier & Ives print, even though Father's "damns" have been excised. But his thunderous "oh, gads!" and explosive "what in tar-nations" are carefully preserved in the screen play written by Donald Ogden Stewart. However, while the camera provides a scope and fluidity of action which necessarily was missing on the stage, the benefits thus derived are more of a pictorial than a dramatic nature, for the pace of the story always accelerates when the camera is simply reproducing scenes as done on the stage.

It sounds a bit absurd to be saying after all these years—eight to be exact—that "Life With Father" is the perfect family entertainment and that in it most everyone will notice a resemblance to something in his own family life. But that's the way it is, and perhaps there are some late comers who would like to know just a little about this domestic classic. Actually, "Life With Father" is not so much a story as it is a reflection of little incidents, which agitate a short tempered, despotic parent They are the kind of crises peculiar to family life, where a prudent husband and father of four sons attempts to run his home on a business-like basis. While Father goes into a towering rage at the slightest provocation, stamping his feet at the breakfast table when the coffee isn't right, he is at heart a very kind, tolerant and sympathetic old man (and we use that term most affectionately).

For all his bluff and independence, Father would be lost without his patient, understanding wife, and one feels genuinely sorry for him in his hour of anxiety when mother lies ill upstairs and the doctors give him small comfort. It is almost unpardonable not to have mentioned Irene Dunne before this because she interprets Vinnie Day with charm, wit and an exactness that perfectly complement Mr. Powell's Father. The way she finally cajoles her rebellious husband into making the journey up to Audubon Park to submit to the baptismal rites which his parents had somehow overlooked is handled by Miss Dunne with great charm and feminine wile.

The four Day boys—all redheads, naturally—are pleasingly played by Jimmy Lydon, the eldest, who has a crush on the visiting Mary Skinner; Martin Milner as John, the inventor; Johnny Calkins as Whitney, who would rather play baseball than study his catechism, and Derek Scott as little Harlan, who worries about meeting his un-baptized father in heaven. Elizabeth Taylor is very appealing as Mary Skinner, and other fine performances are contributed by Edmund Gwenn as the Rev. Dr. Lloyd; ZaSu Pitts as Cousin Cora and a string of maids too numerous to mention here.

"Life With Father" has been expertly staged by the resourceful Michael Curtiz, who has made certain that none of the essential comedy is overdrawn. The Warner Brothers can be proud of a job well done and the rest of us thankful that a classical slice of Americana has been preserved intact.

LIFE WITH FATHER, screen play by Donald Ogden Stewart adapted from the play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, based on the writings of the late Clarence Day Jr.; directed by Michael curtiz; produced by Robert Buckner for Warner Brothers. At the Warner Theatre.
Father . . . . . William Powell
Vinnie . . . . . Irene Dunne
Mary . . . . . Elizabeth Taylor
Rev. Dr. Lloyd . . . . . Edmund Gwenn
Cora . . . . . ZaSu Pitts
Clarence . . . . . Jimmy Lydon
Margaret . . . . . Emma Dunn
Dr. Humphries . . . . . Moroni Olsen
Mrs. Whitehead . . . . . Elizabeth Risdon
Harian . . . . . Derek Scott
Whitney . . . . . Johnny Calkins
John . . . . . Martin Milner
Annie . . . . . Heather Wilde
The Policeman . . . . . Monte Blue
Nora . . . . . Mary Field
Maggie . . . . . Queenie Leonard
Delia . . . . . Nancy Evans
Miss Wiggins . . . . . Clara Blandick
Dr. Somers . . . . . Frank Elliott

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