Father of the Bride (1950)
Father of the Bride (1950)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: June 16th, 1950 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Vincente Minnelli Actors: Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor, Don Taylor, Billie Burke, Leo G. Carroll, Moroni Olsen, Melville Cooper, Marietta Canty, Russ Tamblyn, Tom Irish

 


 

“I

would like to say a few words about weddings …” narrates lawyer Stanley Banks (Spencer Tracy), an exasperated father sitting alone in the middle of a sprawling mess of broken champagne glasses, tossed confetti, and discarded party wares. This is the result of the big festivities – something most fathers forget about when worrying over their daughters and suitors. It all started three months earlier, on a day like any other, when Stanley came home from his office to be greeted by his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett), the maid Delilah (Marietta Canty), and his teenaged sons Ben and Tommy.

The Banks’ only daughter, Kay (Elizabeth Taylor), also hurries down the stairs to greet her father, though she seems distracted – and far too radiant. “You look all lit up inside.” Sure enough, as Ellie suspects, Kay is in love – and with a 26-year-old boy named Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor), who could be any of a great number of young men who have come courting. Stanley is immediately up in arms, concerned with the wealth of choices who could be quite unfitting. And soon it’s revealed that she plans to get married. The horror!

While Stanley fusses over typical fatherly matters, such as the fact that no one will ever be good enough for his little girl and the loss of control over his daughter’s wellbeing, Ellie muses over the perfect wedding dress. But that night, Stanley unleashes a tirade about all the things that could go wrong, dragging Ellie into his world of doubt and fear. “Maybe he’s got a criminal record!”

“I don’t want to frighten the boy to death.” But, of course, there’s a process to go through to judge Buckley’s worth. Does he come from a respectable family? Does he make enough money? Does he have a career and a solid business sense? Can he possibly succeed in seeking approval from the Banks? In a mildly comical manner, the Banks also meet the Dunstans, thoroughly having their assumptions shattered; perhaps both parties are certain the others will be disappointing. Despite the light humor, the scenario is exceptionally realistic; no one can live up to expectations when children become adults and those adults choose partners to then leave the nest.

Further dulling the levity is the evaluation of behaviors by spouses; when everyone is out to make a flawless first impression, no one acts entirely appropriately. Plus, as the wedding looms, with various announcements and gatherings peppering the path to the nuptials, sincere arguments abound – ranging from the size of the wedding, religious implications, the potential for distasteful showiness, the ordering of supplies, and extensive planning. Hoping to infuse some laughs back into the fold, Stanley’s unnecessary narrative interruptions intermittently shape episodes that resemble a how-to demonstration, like one of Goofy’s tutorial cartoons – though they’re never that exaggerated or riotous.

“While my secretary went over the list of wedding gifts, I went over the bills.” Stanley’s role is to be the stern grump, quick to comment on the prices before anything else, designed to contrast the feminine merrymakers scurrying about the house. Yet he doesn’t actually present a specific opposition; the whole family alternatingly assumes the part of the complainer, transforming any glimmer of gaiety into gloom. “I thought a wedding was supposed to be a joyous occasion!”

Woven into the old-fashioned arranging of expenses and sorting of gifts are additional complications, from last-minute spats to ripped clothing. And for every slightly distorted ceremonial hiccup, funny or otherwise, is a believable predicament – or a Freudian nightmare. As it turns out, the realism ends up being a surprising source of comedy, even though it’s never of the laugh-out-loud variety. But what “Father of the Bride” really needs – and never finds – is a few extraordinarily eccentric personas and some slapstick to even out the customariness of matrimonial stresses, expected wedding-day chaos, and gruelingly overlong procession and reception sequences. At least the parting shot is sweet and sentimental.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10