August 9, 2020
Lifew with Father (1947)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Michael Curtiz
Stars: William Powell, Irene Dunne, Elizabeth Taylor

What it's about. Set in Manhattan in 1883. Clarence Day (William Powell) is a wealthy businessman who lives in a sizeable mansion with his beautiful blonde wife Vinnie (Irene Dunne) and their four sons. They are Junior (Jimmy Lydon), about to enter Yale; tweener and budding scientist John (Martin Milner); and youngsters Harlan (Derek Scott) and Whitney (Johnny Calkins).

Since they are wealthy, the Day family has two servants. Middle-aged cook Margaret (Emma Dunn) is a mainstay, but they have an endless series of maids, since Clarence's hair-trigger temper inenvitably scares them into quitting. But Clarence's bark is worse than his bite. Vinnie knows this, and is able to manipulate the seemingly domineering Clarence into doing her bidding.

There are two principal subplots. Junior has a nascent romance with Mary (Elizabeth Taylor), the gorgeous teenage dependent of Vinnie's Cousin Cora (Zazu Pitts). Vinnie learns that Clarence has never been baptized, and the religious Vinnie schemes to compel the secular Clarence into a church for the rite. Lesser subplots include the two oldest brothers raising cash by peddling snake oil "medicine", and Vinnie becoming seriously ill after inadvertently drinking some of her sons' cure-all elixir.

How others will see it. Clarence Day, Junior was actually a real person. In 1935, he wrote a memoir of his life with father. This in turn became a long-running Broadway play, written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. In fact, "Life with Father" remains the longest-running Broadway non-musical comedy. Its run was 401 weeks, meaning the 1939 play could still be seen at the Alvin Theatre while the present film was in production.

The movie was almost as successful as the play. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Powell), Best Color Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Music (Max Steiner). Today at, the movie has a fairly high user rating of 7.2 out of 10. There are only 4500 user ratings, but that number is high for a 1947 movie. For example, Mother Wore Tights was also nominated for Best Color Cinematography, but has a scant 555 votes.

The top user reviews grade the movie either a 9 or 10, but there is an undercurrent of annoyance, especially toward the loud-mouthed character of the father and the stereotypical characters of Vinnie and Mary. All four boys, even the youngest, wear suits at all times, even when they are in their own house without visitors.

How I felt about it. Today, 1883 seems impossibly long ago. But it was different in 1947. Living old-timers still remembered the 1880s. More time has passed between now and the movie (73 years) than between the movie and its depicted time (64 years).

It's an excellent cast. The only moments of bad acting occur when second son Martin Milner (later of Adam-12 fame) has inaudible lines. But they aren't really Milner's fault. The mumbling should have been noticed and corrected by the director, Michael Curtiz of Casablanca renown.

Irene Dunne is ageless, Elizabeth Taylor is beautiful, and Edmund Gwenn, who plays a minister, is as charming as he was as Santa Claus in another 1947 movie, Miracle on 34th Street. The real problem is the blowhard father. Powell, a capable actor, is only doing his job. But his character is a jerk, and it is difficult to understand how such a pompous and irate windbag could become a successful businessman. With his attitude, he couldn't sell ice in the Sahara.