Friday, May 28, 2010

1950 - Father of the Bride

You really haven't lived until you've witnessed first-hand the Christopher Walken mid-sentence pause. He is currently starring on Broadway in Martin McDonagh's new play A Behanding in Spokane, which I saw during the week. I lost count of how many times he surprised me by adding more words to a sentence that I had thought was conclusively over. His relaxed, dry delivery is so intensely entertaining that he hardly needs to speak for the audience to erupt with glee. Add Sam Rockwell to that equation and you've got yourself a very fine show, I assure you. Granted, the story is a little weird but with actors like that, they could be reading the nutritional information on the back of a cereal box and I'd be enthralled.

This evening, I watched nominee number four from the Best Picture shortlist of 1950...

Father of the Bride
Vincente Minelli
Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
(based on the novel by Edward Streeter)
Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor, Don Taylor, Billie Burke
Academy Awards:
3 nominations
0 wins

Father of the Bride opens with Stanley Banks (Tracy) sitting pensively in the aftermath of the wedding reception for his daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) and her beloved Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor). Stanley then recollects the trials and tribulations that led to this special day: the casually shocking engagement announcement, the not-too-formal talk with his soon-to-be son-in-law, the nerve-wracking first meeting with the in-laws, the chaotic wedding rehearsal. And while Stanley worries himself into a knot about the expense of the wedding preparations, his real anxiety stems from his inability to say goodbye to his only daughter.

1950 sure was a stellar year for witty dialogue. In Goodrich and Hackett's script of Father of the Bride, we have yet another Best Picture nominee filled with humour. Of course, that is entirely unsurprising in this case since it is clearly a comedy. Nonetheless, clever writing is always worth mentioning, especially when it contributes to such a pleasant viewing experience. And 'pleasant' is an apt way to describe this sweet and funny film. Just like the recently discussed King Solomon's Mines, Father of the Bride is also well aware of its own genre and is successful precisely because it is simple and straightforward.

With the release of the 1991 Steve Martin remake, the comparisons are inevitable, especially considering both were big hits at the box office. Having the benefit of a modern sensibility, the newer version might be considered more accessible to a modern audience. However, the original stands up very well. For a film from 1950, it doesn't feel as old-fashioned as it could. Plus, the original garnered three Oscar nominations - three more than the remake.

Spencer Tracy carries the film superbly. From the opening monologue, his casual style creates an incredibly affable character which makes it that much easier to take this journey with him. It also accentuates the 'aww' factor when Stanley recognises that he is losing his daughter. At eighteen, Elizabeth Taylor was already an experienced actress and she is charmingly sweet as daddy's little girl. And yes, that's Glinda the Good Witch, Billie Burke, as Buckley's mother.


  1. When I first saw your intro, I thought what's 'behanding'? you must mean beheading. But you don't make typos, I do - plus it's a link. Anyway, now I know a new word, even if it is made up. Think of the possibilities: A new play: Befitting a Befooting. What a thrill seeing Christopher Walken must have been. The man is unique. I see it also had Anthony Mackie in the cast. He was excellent in The Hurt Locker.

    Father of the Bride offered me a rare occurrence - seeing the original after I've seen the remake. It was one of those movies that I always seem to catch in the middle on TCM, so I never watched it for more than a few minutes.

    The first thing that struck me was how close the remake stayed to the original. Steve Martin did a nice job, although it led to his taking role after role in remakes to diminished results. Spencer Tracy however, was at his best. He seemed to go from young to old very quickly in films and this offers a glimpse of his brief in-between period.

    Solid supporting actor Leo G. Carroll did a nice job as the wedding planner, but I couldn't help think of how Martin Short's pronunciation-bending take on it would have been viewed in 1950. I think the audience would have thought he was an alien who wandered over from the set of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

    As a post war film, it was no surprise to see the emphasis on social drinking, which along with smoking was a staple of the times.

    Good film. Good cast. Along with Born Yesterday, it balanced out the dramatics of the two big nominees from 1950.

  2. Great blog entry!! I'm sure you can read a nutrition label and make it sound interesting too, Matt!

  3. Seeing the name Buckley Dunstan threw me for a moment.... Whaaaaa?