Sunday, November 03, 2013

OVP: Father of the Bride (1950)

Film: Father of the Bride (1950)
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor, Don Taylor, Billie Burke, Leo G. Carroll
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Oscar History: 3 nominations (Best Picture, Actor-Spencer Tracy, Adapted Screenplay)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

It seems fitting to start our wedding week OVP movies out with a classic happy ending tale (when I assembled the list, I just went with films that had "wedding" or "bride" in the title, so they might not all be traditional love stories).  One of the oddest things about this 1950 Vincente Minnelli picture is that many people today don't know it exists, despite the presence of Tracy and Taylor, as well as its high profile Oscar nominations.  When people think of Father of the Bride, they usually picture Steve Martin and Diane Keaton in the 1990's hit remake of the picture, but in fact there was a movie before Franz the  Wedding Planner.  Oddly enough, there was even a sequel with roughly the same plot as Father of the Bride II, except Joan Bennett didn't have to go through labor in that one.

For those seeing this film second, though, they'll be stunned to find that it is almost a scene-for-scene remake of the film.  We have Stanley (Tracy), an ornery old man in a happy home with his wife Ellie (Bennett) and their three children, the eldest of which is his beautiful daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor).  Soon, of course, Kay is bringing home a beau that is far more significant than the others named Buckley (Don Taylor), a relatively nice young man who would be a perfectly acceptable son-in-law, except of course that Stanley isn't ready for his daughter to grow up.

But grow up she does, and soon Stanley finds himself in the middle of wedding planning and in-law meet-ups and something of a midlife crisis (I loved the scene of Spencer Tracy beaming with pride to Joan Bennett when he can barely fit into his old tuxedo).  The film, which is quite short, gives Tracy a number of comedic scenes to exercise an acting muscle he was rarely asked to use (Tracy was the master of the melodrama and this was the only of his myriad Oscar nominations to be from a comedy).  Aside from the suit scene, his best comic scene is during the wedding rehearsal, where as the father-of-the-bride, he has a significant role but as a man not well-versed in such things, doesn't exactly get the concept of a wedding rehearsal.

The movie is at its best when its focusing on Tracy solo or when he's around Bennett, who is charming in a part that requires her to be little more.   They have a wonderful chemistry as a long-married couple, and I loved that they rarely quarreled, and when they did, it wasn't always his fault.  Stanley regularly needed reminders about how this was a "once in a lifetime" event, but you had to feel for the guy when he was writing out checks for bridesmaid presents to women he doesn't know or to an orchestra that no one really listens to or the movers that will take the stuff out of his living room for the reception only.

In the theme of wedding week, I will say that the bride's dress was absolutely lovely (Edith Head was loaned out specifically for this dress, and it shows)-Elizabeth Taylor was 17-18 when this was made, and couldn't have been more effervescent if she tried in that dress.  I also found some of the customs of the weddings strange, considering the film is over sixty years old.  I had never been aware of the bridesmaids walking separately from the groomsmen and I really didn't understand Tracy's objections to the wedding in a church (I figured most weddings at this time were in churches, but could someone well-versed teach me about this in the comments?).

The film could have used a bit more life from Taylor.  Though she would become a very accomplished actor later in life, Taylor's mannerisms were too childlike for my taste and she relied too much on the wide eyes and smile to make me appreciate her character.  Tracy is...fine in the lead role.  Tracy, an actor whom I don't have a lot of experience with (this is somehow my first of his nine nominated roles) doesn't seem right for comedy.  Had I not seen the remake, I would probably be a bit more forgiving (he can certainly sell some of the aforementioned scenes), but Steve Martin is such a wildly gifted comedian that it's impossible not to compare the two, and Martin comes out ahead even if this is a sturdier and stronger film.

Those were my thoughts-how about yours?  Were you aware that this film existed, and if you've seen both, which version of the film do you like the best?  Do you think Tracy should have prevailed over Jose Ferrer in the Best Actor race?  Share in the comments!

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