“Vinnie, we have four children — if we’re not married now, we never will be!”
In 1880s New York, the domineering father (William Powell) and scatterbrained mother (Irene Dunne) of four red-headed boys (Jimmy Lydon, Derek Scott, Johnny Calkins, and Martin Milner) deal with a series of household challenges — including Lydon’s crush on a beautiful visiting teen (Elizabeth Taylor), and Dunne’s distress that Powell has never been baptized.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Edmund Gwenn Films
- Elizabeth Taylor Films
- Historical Drama
- Irene Dunne Films
- Michael Curtiz Films
- Play Adaptation
- William Powell Films
- Zasu Pitts Films
Clarence Day Jr.‘s affectionate homage to his Victorian-era upbringing was originally published as an autobiographical memoir in 1935, then turned into the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway before gaining an even wider audience via this cinematic adaptation (directed by Michael Curtiz) and finally being made into a T.V. series in the mid-’50s. Clearly, Day’s recollections of his parents’ loving yet contentious pre-Suffrage marriage struck a nerve with audience members of the day, many of whom likely appreciated watching a domineering control freak effectively “managed” by his clever wife. To that end, Dunne’s ability to run her household the way she wants to — through strategic use of deception, feigned ignorance, and passive-aggressive techniques — is played for laughs, most notably in her extended ploy to trick her reluctant husband into getting baptized.
While dosing his anecdotal storyline with plenty of humor and nostalgia, Day makes it clear that one of his primary goals is to reveal the inanity (and futility) of his father’s dated patriarchal beliefs:
“Men have to run this world, and it’s not an easy job. It takes work and it takes thinking. A man has to reason things out. Now you take a woman, a woman doesn’t think at all. If a man thinks a certain thing is wrong, he shouldn’t do it. If he thinks it’s right, he should do it. You just have to let the women know that what you’re doing is for their good. Be firm.”
The fact that Day manages to salvage his father’s character while simultaneously skewering such nonsensical drivel reveals the secret to the film’s blockbuster success. Meanwhile, Michael Curtiz’s solid direction helps move the proceedings along smoothly. With that said, Life With Father will likely only hold minimal appeal for modern film fanatics, and remains of interest primarily to see Dunne and Powell’s typically solid lead performances. Fans of Elizabeth Taylor will also, of course, want to watch it for her:
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- William Powell as “Father”
- Irene Dunne as Vinnie
No, though it’s worth a look simply for Dunne and Powell’s performances.