FATHER OF THE BRIDE(director: Vincente Minnelli; screenwriters: Frances Goodrich/Albert Hackett/from a novel by Edward Streeter; cinamatographer: John Alton; editor: Ferris Webster; cast: Spencer Tracy (Stanley Banks), Joan Bennett (Ellie Banks), Elizabeth Taylor (Kay Banks), Don Taylor (Buckley Dunstan), Billie Burke (Doris Dunstan), Moroni Olsen (Herbert Dunstan), Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Massoula), Marietta Canty (Delilah), Tom Irish (Ben Banks), Paul Harvey (Rev. A.I. Galsworthy), Russ Tamblyn (Tommy Banks); Runtime: 105; MGM; 1950)
“This is one of the great dark comedies of the 1950s.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is one of the great dark comedies of the 1950s. The satire evolves from the nightmare a middle-aged, suburban father has when his beautiful 20-year-old daughter, his only daughter and the one he is most partial to of his three children, announces to him that she intends to get married. The crisis for the father becomes one of his own making as he is jealous of the groom, fearful that he has lost his daughter to a stranger, overly concerned about the high cost of the wedding, and is feeling insecure about getting old.
Spencer Tracy is just superb as the father, Stanley Banks, who commutes from his well-to-do suburban home to the city, where he is a partner in a successful law firm. Ellie (Joan Benett) is his loyal companion, sharing with him a happy life. Their two teen-age sons, Tommy and Ben (Russ Tamblyn/Tom Irish), are good kids, offering no problems. The father’s only problem in life will come over arranging for the marriage of his daughter, as he reflects on how sad he feels about losing her.
The opening scene is a memorable one. Stanley is sunk down in a chair, exasperatedly looking back on the wedding he has just survived, sitting amidst a pile of junk that is left-over from the reception given in his home. He looks at the camera and delivers his biting account of the three months leading up to the wedding and describes the wedding in detail. He begins by saying: “I would like to say a few words about weddings. I’ve just been through one.”
The father’s travail begins with the family at the dinner table where he learns that his daughter has found someone special, and he tries to picture in his mind which of the boys she brought over to the house is the one she chose. When Stanley finally meets the 26-year-old lucky fellow, Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor), he is disappointed and surprised that his daughter is in such awe of him. Troubled that he knows so little about the future groom Stanley arranges for a “man-to-man” talk to see if he will be a good provider for Kay and in the course of their talk, where he does all the talking, he feels relieved that his daughter is marrying a man with a head on his shoulders.
The Banks get to meet and know their daughter’s in-laws, Doris (Billie Burke) and Herbert Dunstan (Moroni Olsen), which he perceives as the next obstacle. After much suspicion about the family their daughter is marrying into, the father’s concerns are eased by seeing the beautiful house they live in and that they both are of the same privileged class as they are.
There are a few more tribulations the ‘poor’ father has to go through such as the engagement party where he is advised by friends: “from now on, your only function is to pay the bills.” Then there is his worry that the wedding is going to bankrupt him. The amusement is in watching him go over the large guest list as the family tries to decide who is to be invited to the church and who is to be invited to both the church and the reception afterwards; and, if it is possible to cut down the guest list and save some expenses, which provokes a family dispute of whom to leave off. Even the caterer (Leo G. Carroll) proves to be an unpleasant problem to deal with, as Stanley wryly says: “An experienced caterer can make you ashamed of your house in fifteen minutes.”
One of the more comical scenes is when Kay wants to call the wedding off because Buckley chose to go to an unromantic fishing spot for the honeymoon, as the father listens intently to this ‘serious’ dilemma and pretends to understand his daughter’s thinking on this.
The most telling scene is the father’s bad dream about how the wedding ceremony might turn out to be a fiasco…which magnifies all his psychological traumas of being a father of the bride. Finally, at the church service, the reality of the situation sets in and he comes to accept it. This is followed by the cramped wedding reception in his redecorated house. His final sadness is that he misses out in saying good-bye to his daughter as she goes off on her honeymoon, unable to find him in the crush of guests. All his fears about losing his daughter for good are resolved when she phones him from the train station and reassures him that she loves him. Stanley, tired and ready to call it a night, says out loud, “Nothing’s really changed, has it? You know what they say: ‘My son’s my son until he gets him a wife, but my daughter’s my daughter all of her life.’ All of our life.”
REVIEWED ON 4/4/2000 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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