“I hate him — and I hate hating him.”
When his mother (Dorothy Stickney) passes away, a widowed professor (Gene Hackman) must decide whether to stay in New York and care for his elderly father (Melvyn Douglas) or move to California and marry his girlfriend (Elizabeth Hubbard).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Father and Child
- Gene Hackman Films
- Grown Children
- Melvyn Douglas Films
- Play Adaptation
This Oscar-nominated drama — based on Robert Anderson’s autobiographical play — received radically diverse reviews upon its release, with Vincent Canby of The New York Times lambasting it as “a wretched motion picture”, and Roger Ebert praising it as “one of the most unforgettably human films I can remember.” The truth lies somewhere in between: I Never Sang for My Father is a frustrating blend of positive elements (fine performances and authentically drawn characters) with an overly theatrical script, stagy direction, and an obtrusively melodramatic score. Each time an emotionally powerful scene emerges, director Gilbert Cates tacks on swelling background music and/or unnecessary flashback sequences to emphasize the point; meanwhile, it’s impossible to forget that I Never Sang… was originally a stage play, given several obvious “end of act” speeches, and only a limited attempt to open up the story to outside locales. With that said, certain small exchanges — such as Douglas commenting on his lack of chest hair in comparison with his son — ring so true that it’s obvious screenwriter Anderson was drawing from intensely personal experiences; and the actors — particularly Douglas and Hackman — give such fine, credible performances that one can’t help retaining an interest in the characters despite the film’s deeper flaws.
Ultimately, however, it’s not “must see” viewing.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Melvyn Douglas as Tom Garrison
- Gene Hackman as Gene Garrison
No, but it’s worth viewing once.