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USA 1947
Directed by
Michael Curtiz
118 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Life With Father

Life With Father is based on the autobiographical writings of 'New Yorker' essayist and cartoonist Clarence Day Jr. adapted into a stage play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse which was in turn adapted for the screen by Donald Ogden Stewart. It may not have the sharp wit of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest' with which Day must have been familiar (the narrative trajectory involves Day Snr. getting baptised) but nevertheless it is a delightful comedy that in similar fashion targets the mores and manners of upper class New Yorkers in the late Victorian period (1883 to be specific).

William Powell plays Clarence Day Snr., a successful stockbroker living at 420 Madison Avenue, Manhattan with his wife Vinnie (Irene Dunne) and four sons. There is little plot of speak of, the film, which is set mainly in the Day home, being rather a portrait of the father and the endless frustrations he experiences as he tries to maintain right and proper order in his castle, which as he puts it, reflecting the Victorian image of the paterfamilias, should be run on a business-like basis. Although his short-tempered blustering creates ongoing difficulties with domestic staff, behind this self-ordained pose he is a kindly person who loves his family, a love which is borne out when Vinnie becomes seriously ill.

Whilst the clever and poignant text is the foundation of the film’s success Powell gives an outstanding performance and Dunne is his sympathetic but determined foil (The scene in which Vinne explains to her thrifty husband how a suit for their eldest boy didn’t cost him anything is priceless). An up-and-coming Elisabeth Taylor has a small role as a visiting relative. Michael Curtiz who directed some of the classics of the era including Casablanca (1942) and Mildred Pierce (1945) delivers a film that whilst not an attention-grabber as such will please devotees of gently sophisticated comedy.




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