Father of the Bride (1950)

“I would like to say a few things about weddings…”

Synopsis:
When his 20-year-old daughter (Elizabeth Taylor) announces that she’s going to be marrying her boyfriend (Don Taylor), Stanley Banks (Spencer Tracy) and his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) begin the heady — and expensive — process of planning her wedding.

Genres:

Review:
Vincente Minnelli’s Father of the Bride (remade with Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, and Kimberly Williams in 1991) remains a slightly dated yet undeniably charming piece of mid-century Americana, providing an amusing snapshot of what middle- and upper-middle-class citizens were, at heart, most concerned with: “doing things right” without breaking the bank. Despite its socio-economic and ethnic specificity, however, Father of the Bride manages to transcend both class and race in its astute depiction of the trials and tribulations inherent in planning an enormous family event; indeed, what middle-aged man can’t relate to the struggle to fit into his former best suit, or trying to balance an increasingly out-of-control budget? Equally effective is the way in which Tracy manages to convey — without undue pathos — the deep sense of emptiness and panic he feels at “losing” his only daughter to another man; his close relationship with Taylor is quite special.

In addition to offering many amusing vignettes (see Redeeming Qualities and Moments below), FOTB features spot-on performances throughout; indeed, Peary is so impressed by Spencer Tracy’s turn as Stanley Banks that he awards him a Best Actor Oscar in his Alternate Oscars book (a questionable, albeit noble, choice). Joan Bennett is equally fine as Tracy’s harried wife, a middle-aged woman who’s living out her own unrequited wedding fantasies through her daughter; and Elizabeth Taylor is simply luminous as Tracy’s young daughter (she helped enormously with publicity by graciously getting married — for the first time — just before the film’s release).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Spencer Tracy as Stanley Banks
    FOTB Tracy
  • 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor as Tracy’s grown daughter
    FOTB Dresses
  • Joan Bennett as Ellie Banks: “Stanley, from now on, don’t answer the phone.”
    FOTB Bennett
  • Tracy trying to fit into his far-too-small “cut-away” suit
    FOTB Snug
  • Stanley’s surreal nightmare-before-the-wedding
    FOTB Nightmare
  • “Mr. Tringle” (Melville Cooper) demonstrating to the wedding party how to “step, stop” down the aisle
    FOTB Step Stop
  • Mr. and Mrs. Banks checking out a particularly hideous wedding present from “Aunt Hattie”
    FOTB Clock
  • A spot-on look at the chaos surrounding wedding preparations
    FOTB Chaos

Must See?
Yes, for its erstwhile popularity and Oscar-nominated status.

Categories

Links:

One Response to “Father of the Bride (1950)”

  1. If you think you will benefit (and you might) from watching the heartless spectacle of a ‘princess wedding’ nightmare, then this is a must. If, on the other hand, you think you’re going to see a classic MGM comedy, you’re headed for the wrong film.

    What should be more of a drama (with perhaps comic touches), ‘FOTB’ is schizophrenic about intent and almost falls completely apart as it plods its unfunny way toward a sugar-coated conclusion. Comments about the film at IMDb include such praise as “clever”, “touching”, “hilarious”, “sweet”, but if you’re stopped by what’s on the surface, you’ll wonder, ‘What film were they watching???!’

    At IMDb, you will also find someone who comments with the heading: “Am I the only person who thinks this movie is depressing?” Now we’re getting somewhere!

    One might expect a film of this sort to center on a family of average, mild temperament which finds itself banding together when they have to deal with society’s expectations re: weddings. But that would require a close-knit family, which the film’s isn’t – although we’re not to think that.

    There are three children: two boys, who hardly register (they don’t even show up for dinner), and Elizabeth Taylor who, for the most part, is a spoiled brat (her beau even calls her that, which causes a fight between them).

    It’s fitting, of course, that Tracy fears losing his ‘little girl’. In his opening speech, he speaks somewhat eloquently about this natural paternal feeling, one of many as he has watched his daughter grow – although we also get –

    Tracy: If the boys swarm around, you’re in a panic for fear she’ll marry one of them. If they don’t swarm around, why, of course, you’re in another kind of a panic and you wonder what’s the matter with her. (What, that she might be a lesbian?)

    But Taylor is the ‘little girl’ who seems sure that her ‘Daddy Days’ are over. We see nary a trace of what she might have once felt for Tracy. She’s in love. She keeps all information regarding this from her parents. When they ask about it, she’s defensive and a mouthpiece for everything her intended is in favor of or against; we get a loop of “Buckley says…”

    When Tracy suggests to Taylor that he meet one-on-one with the guy, we get –

    Tracy: I thought we might have a little talk, you know – I thought I’d talk to him about what he’s earning–
    Taylor:(arms folded, look of disdain) You’re kidding.
    Tracy: That sort of thing.
    Taylor: I didn’t believe (people) really did that. I thought it was just a gag.

    (By the way, we even lose understanding of and sympathy for Tracy when he finally does get a chance to talk alone with the guy and spends the entire time talking about himself!)

    All this just gets worse when there’s talk of planning the wedding date. Taylor turns into a beast to her parents and siblings –

    Taylor: This isn’t a kids’ party – it’s my wedding and my friends! …No one has to raise a finger. When the time comes, I’ll do everything, and I mean everything! …Listen! I don’t care if you come or not!

    And, being the father, Tracy is then expected to foot an outrageous bill nowhere within his means. (The film becomes less about making Taylor’s day memorable and more about giving Bennett – who doesn’t work and has a maid – the wedding she never had; inconceivable baloney when you simply can’t afford grand-scale and who knows how long you’ll be paying it off.)

    Still, it gets even worse: at a celebration to announce the wedding, Tracy is stuck in the kitchen playing bartender to a series of male guests who – though they should know him – do nothing but bark drink orders at him and otherwise ignore him. (These are the friends and acquaintances?)

    All of this is played for laughs but I don’t think I chuckled once.

    I did, however, perk up immediately as Tracy slept the night before the wedding and had a nightmare – finally!, everything came together in a blend of Ingmar Bergman angst and Salvador Dali symbolism! Referred to by someone at IMDb as one of the film’s “funniest scenes” (?!), Tracy’s frustration and anxiety sublimates into nocturnal horror, complete with Taylor screaming her head off as if in rehearsal for ‘Suddenly, Last Summer’. To me, it’s the only scene that makes any real sense – and it seems at odds with the rest of the movie.

    And then, inexplicably, everything is fine – simply controlled chaos from that point on, with a smooth wedding, Tracy kept ‘comically’ apart from his own daughter during the reception, and Taylor finally calling him long-distance to say “I love you, Pops.”

    This really is one of the most depressing comedies out there. The argument can be made that, since my worldview is ‘different’, I may not ‘get it’. I do – and am relieved to be far removed from intense communication breakdown within a family which is further exacerbated by a wedding mistaken for a coronation.

    A much better film along similar lines would be released in 1956: ‘The Catered Affair’.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.