The Vincente Minnelli Blogathon: The Pleasures of Father of the Bride (1950)

This weekend, my friend Michaela, blogger at Love Letters to Old Hollywood, is hosting her very first blogathon: The Vincente Minelli Blogathon! Minelli was well-known for his musicals such as Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris or Gigi. I must admit, I really haven’t seen many of his movies, but my favourite is, without a doubt, Father of the Bride. Unlike the one I’ve previously mentioned, this one isn’t a Technicolor musical, but a simple black and white comedy.
This 1950s’ film stars Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett, Don Taylor, Billie Burke, Leo G. Carroll Moroni Olsen and even Russ Tamblyn in a small role. The story is very simple: Kay Banks (Taylor), the daughter of Ellie (Bennett) and Stanley (Tracy) Banks, wants to get married to Buckley Dunstan ( Don Taylor). However, her father can’t get the idea of “losing” a daughter and is not sure Buckley is the right man for her. But that is in vain, as a 250 persons wedding finally begins to be organized by him and his wife. The film is mostly about the wedding’s preparations and the wedding itself.
Father of the Bride is an easy-watching movie. It’s a perfect film to view with your family to simply share a good laugh and an agreeable moment. No stress here, and no boring moments. On its release, it was a commercial success. The film was also nominated for a Best Picture Award at the 1951’s Oscars. A remake has been made in 1991 with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton (and also a sequel), but I believe it’s not as good as the original one.
On my side, the main reason why I first decided to watch this film was because of Joan Bennett, and actress that I found most interesting and that I was beginning to discover. But of course, the idea that she was co-starring with Spencer Tracy and my twin Elizabeth Taylor was most appealing too! This was a very interesting Joan Bennett’s role for me to see as I was mostly used to her darker characters in Fritz Langs’ films or as the coquette Amy March in Little Women. But Joan Bennett proves that she can also be excellent as a simple family mother. She hasn’t lost her beauty and is radiant as always. There’s a lot of tenderness and warmth in her acting. This one remains simple, without any extravagances, but can still touch us. It was just the perfect dose for the type of character she had to play. Without any surprises, Spence Tracy first wanted Katharine Hepburn to play his wife, but as they were known as a too “romantic” couple, it seems they wouldn’t have been suitable as an ordinary married couple. (IMDB) I love Kate and Spencer duos, but I must admit it’s nice to see Spencer paired with other ladies! However, I don’t really agree with the reasons why Kate wasn’t cast in the role and I’m sure she would have done a fine job, just like Joan.
Liz Taylor couldn’t have been a better choice as Joan Bennett’s daughter. Physically, they share a certain resemblance. Both have those black hair and this delicate figure that makes them look like mysterious and fragile beauties. Interestingly, both actresses played the role of Amy March in cinematography adaptations of Little Women.(IMDB) For her role, Liz gave the right dose of innocence to a girl that is said to be very young to be married. At the time the film was made, Liz was only around 18, but she seems a bit older, and in a good way. She’s not just a teenage girl, but also a real lady full of elegance. Her acting game as Kay contains softness, but also with a living energy. Despite her young age and the fact that she’s a bit treated like a child by her fictional father, I think it’s interesting to mention that, in 1950, 6 weeks before the film’s premiere, Elizabeth got married for real and for the first time, to “Nicky” Conrad Hilton Jr.
Spencer Tracy plays the lead in this film and he’s just…perfect! Not only his acting, but also his narration. His voice tone is exactly right for the atmosphere of the film. I think the narrative moment I like the most is when he talks about Kay’s many boyfriends. Just cracks me up, especially when he starts with “Was it the one with the teeth?”
Spencer was one of those actors that didn’t have to do much to gain our sympathy. Some of his facial expressions, and that’s the case for any movie he’s in, simply worth a million. He also has a very paternal figure, which suits perfectly his role in Father of the Bride. What I enjoyed the most about his character in the film, is the fact that he’s always trying to be subtle, but he’s not. Think of this moment while he is looking to  Buckley coming to their home, hidden behind the curtains. Simply hilarious! Even if Joan Bennett was not Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy makes a beautiful couple with her. As “normal middle-class parents” they were convincing enough. As for the role of the father, the fact that Stanley can’t get the idea of “losing” his girl was perfectly embodied by Spencer Tracy. He really makes us believe the attachment he has for his fictional daughter and shows a beautiful chemistry with Elizabeth Taylor. Spencer Tracy received an Oscar nomination for his performance.
When I re-watched the film for the blogathon, I didn’t remember who played Kay’s fiancé, but when I saw Don Taylor’s, his face curiously rang a bell. From the film, of course, but I was sure I had seen him somewhere else. He plays William Holden’s friend in Stalag 17, so that’s probably the film I was probably thinking about (because I don’t think I’ve seen any other), but somehow he looks like another actor. I can’t say who! Anyway, if you have any ideas, please tell me. In an important supporting role, he does an appreciable job. He’s humble and doesn’t take too much place, which was perfect for his character. He might not be the most memorable one of the lot, but he shines in his own way.
This is the main quartet, but some other actors deserve honourable mentions such as Billie Burke, who plays  Buckley’s mother. I had forgotten she was in the film, but when I saw her, I knew she would be a great support as she always is. Moroni Olsen who plays his husband is the perfect sympathetic fellow and encourages a smile on our face. Leo G. Carroll is often associated with Hitchcock’s, so it is nice to see him in a different kind of film! He gives the perfect touch of snobbism to his character.
With Father of the Bride, we have the proof that a movie doesn’t have to be based on something complicated to be good. Hey, it’s basically the story of a girl who prepares her wedding. Just a bit like 12 Angry Men, which is the story of 12 jurors who debates on the innocence of a boy condemn to death for murder. That goes without saying that the story contains surprises and an interesting development that makes it unique in its own genre. It is NOT just about wedding preparations, but also about family relationships. The fact that the whole thing is seen from the father’s point of view makes it very interesting too and different. It probably would have been something completely different if it would have been seen from Kay’s point of view for example. Of from  Buckley’s point of view. Just imagine!
As a comedy, the film contains many moments of hilarity, but those are always added with beautiful tact so the film won’t lose its initial class. Father of the Bride is a refine comedy, which suits perfectly well to Liz Taylor, Joan Bennett, and Spencer Tracy. Could we say it’s a screwball comedy? This genre was mostly at its golden age in the 30’s and the early 40’s, but as it uses the theme of the wedding (an important theme in screwballs), we could say that it is a post-screwball comedy. It can also be the case because of its bright well-thought lines. The script, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on  Edward Streeter’s novel of the same time, was nominated for an Oscar.

1- Ben Banks: Can’t be June. I’ve got my final. Why not May?

Ellie Banks: May’s too early.

Tommy Banks: July’s out. I’m going to camp.

Kay Banks: This isn’t a kids party. It’s my wedding and my friends.

2- Stanley T. Banks: No one paid any attention to the orchestra. Ellie could have saved that 85 bucks!

3- Stanley T. Banks: I would like to say a few words about weddings. I’ve just been through one. Not my own. My daughter’s. Someday in the far future I may be able to remember it with tender indulgence, but not now. I always used to think that marriages were a simple affair. Boy meets girl. Fall in love. They get married. Have babies. Eventually the babies grow up and meet other babies. They fall in love. Get married. Have babies. And so on and on and on. Looked at that way, it’s not only simple, it’s downright monotonous. But I was wrong. I figured without the wedding.
Apart from the good lines, the film is sprinkled with memorable moments. One of my favourite is when Stanley has prepared a ton of martini’s for the party, but everybody is ordering something else. Poor Mr. Banks! The meeting between Kay and  Buckley’s parents is pretty delightful too, just like the wedding itself.These are just a few examples, so you’ll have to see the film to discover more of them!
However, one that cannot be missed is when we first see Kay in her wedding dress. A simply magical moment for our eyes. The wedding gown was designed by Edith Head, so it could be nothing, but beautiful. I also love the dress Joan Bennett is wearing at the wedding. When Spencer Tracy sees his two favourite ladies at the top of their elegance he certainly is as much flabbergasted as we are!
Father of the Bride is a movie that can easily be described as “simply delightful”. There are no uneccessary extravagances in it so it remains much pleasant to watch. I spent an agreeable time writing about it and I want to thanks Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood for giving me the opportunity to do so!
Don’t forget to take a look at the other entries 🙂
Ps: It’s funny because while I was finishing writing this my sister told me that there was an old movie on television. I went to take a look at it was Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me it St. Louis! Fun coincidence. 🙂