Filmsite Movie Review
Father of the Bride (1950)
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Father of the Bride (1950) is a satirical comedy of the travails and joys of a harrassed father experiencing his only daughter's expensive wedding. He was put through a series of challenges: financial, social, and emotional. The film was quickly made by director Vincente Minnelli while he was preparing production for his next film: An American in Paris (1951).

The film's screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett was adapted from Edward Streeter's 1949 novel. It was one of the highest-grossing films of its year - earning over $6 million (worldwide). It made a substantial profit for the studio of almost $3 million.

Its tagline was an apt description of the father's dilemma:

The Bride gets the THRILLS! Father gets the BILLS!

The small-scale father-daughter family comedy was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), and Best Original Screenplay, with no wins.

The witty and contrived story was told in flashback, regarding the preparations of an idealized young bride (17 year-old Elizabeth Taylor, who would go on to experience many weddings in her own personal life), and the repercussions, problems, and responsibilities involved in marrying off a daughter by the "father of the bride."

Many of the sequences and vignettes were highly typical and familiar for audiences: the young daughter's casual announcement of her engagement and marriage plans during a quiet family dinner, the mixed emotions of losing a "baby girl," the heart-to-heart talk with the bridegroom, the meeting with the in-laws, the machinations of the wedding planners, discussions regarding the honeymoon, and the overall expense of the venture.

The 1950s breadwinning 'father of the bride' Stanley (Spencer Tracy) presided over a domestic suburban setting, including his wife Ellie Banks (Joan Bennett in her first film for MGM), his always-hungry teenaged son Tommy (Russ Tamblyn), collegiate-aged Ben (Tom Irish), and their eldest "only daughter" - 20 year-old sister Kay (nicknamed "Kitten"), a charming and beautiful young girl. Her betrothed was 26 year-old Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor), whose bloodline she gushed over when she first announced their engagement and future marriage:

"And as for his parents, I'll tell you this right now, Pops. They're just as good as you and Moms. They're fine people, and they live in Westbridge. I guess you'll agree that Westbridge is just as good a place as Fairview Manor."

The beloved MGM comedy was followed by a sequel, Father's Little Dividend (1951), also directed by Minnelli and starring Tracy and Taylor - a tale that now showed Stanley suffering from the birth of his daughter's first child during the couple's first year of marriage. From 1961-1962, a short-lived TV series featured Ruth Warwick, Myrna Fahey and Leon Ames (in Tracy's role).

It was unnecessarily modernized as Father of the Bride (1991), starring Steve Martin as the beleaguered father George Banks, with Diane Keaton as his wife Nina, and Kimberly Williams as daughter Annie. [Note: There was also a sequel: Father of the Bride Part II (1995).]

Plot Synopsis

The satirical film of the rites of matrimony opens with a memorable scene. Well-to-do, hapless, disgruntled lawyer Stanley T. Banks or "Pops" (Spencer Tracy), collapsed and exhausted in an arm-chair, looks back on the wedding he has just lived through, sitting amidst a pile of left-over debris from the reception in his suburban home, surveying the wreckage. He tells the audience:

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 marriage was a simple affair. Boy and girl meet, they fall in love, get married, they have babies. Eventually the babies grow up, meet other babies, and they fall in love and get married, 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.

Now you fathers will understand. You have a little girl. She looks up to you. You're her oracle. You're her hero. And then the day comes when she gets her first permanent wave and goes to her first real party, and from that day on, you're in a constant state of panic. If the boys swarm around, you're in a panic for fear she'll marry one of them. If they don't swarm around, why, of course you're in another kind of a panic, and you wonder what's the matter with her. So you don't worry about it. You say to yourself, 'I've got plenty of time to worry about that. I'll just put off thinking about it.' And then suddenly it is upon you. It was just three months ago, exactly three months ago, that the storm broke here.

It was an ordinary day, very much like any other day. I had caught the commuters' train home, as usual. It was late, as usual....

Exasperated but in a low-key tone, he tells the story of his beautiful daughter Kay's (Elizabeth Taylor) casual announcement of her engagement and all the ceremonial requirements and events leading up to the wedding over a period of three months.

There are many memorable scenes, including:

- Stanley's first realization that his 'little girl' Kay is soon to be leaving in anticipation of her marriage to her fiancee, Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor): "All I could think of was a little girl in brown pigtails and dirty overalls, flying at the boys when they pushed her too far. Seems like such an incredibly short time ago."

- Stanley reveals his curious desire to "get a peek at this Superman" from the front window of his home - he experiences his first view of Kay's suitor - and has a pained reaction!

- in the middle of the night, Stanley frantically worries to his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) about Kay's choice of a fiancee: "We don't know a thing about him. Not a darn thing. Not where he comes from, what he makes, or what he makes making it. Only thing we know about him is his name, and you weren't too sure about that. Yet he walks in, and we hand him Kay....I want to know whether he's going to make her happy. Whether he's going to make a home for her, can he support her?"

- Stanley's desire is to follow through on all that "old-fashioned rigmarole" including the lengthy "man-to-man" talk (a fireside "little chat") he has with Buckley about his financial prospects (three months before the nuptials), to determine if he can suitably support Kay; the interview is interminably long and boring

- during the required meeting of the Banks to get to know the wealthy in-laws the Dunstans, Stanley and Ellie meet with Herbert or "Herbie" (Moroni Olsen) and Doris Dunstan (Billie Burke), who live in much more than a "shack"; Stanley admits (in voice-over) about the meeting: "We did more bare-faced lying in those few minutes than we had done in our entire lives"; the get-together in the Dunstan's living room ends when Stanley drinks too much Madeira (fortified wine from Portugal) and falls asleep upright on the couch in the midst of the discussion

- in the scene of the Banks' party to announce the engagement (the guests routinely decline Stanley's pre-prepared martinis and order many other varieties of drinks), Stanley finds himself confined to the kitchen and is unable to deliver his prepared speech; he is advised about finances and his place in the proceedings: "Enjoy your minute in the limelight. It'll be your last. From now on the gals take over...When it comes to weddings, they're giants of industry. They put it on like a big theatrical production, too. The bigger the better. From now on, your only function is to pay the bills"; Stanley disagrees: "No, no, this is going to be a very simple wedding," although he is soon proven wrong

- the decision of both families is that the wedding and reception would be small; however, when a church wedding is suggested, Stanley vehemently objects: "If you insist upon a church wedding, you can count me out"; Stanley becomes exasperated about how everyone else is spending his money: "Bridesmaids and churches and automobiles and flowers and heaven knows what...If her friends want to go out and bankrupt themselves, that's their business, not mine, but we've always lived very simply, within our means. Now here, what are we gonna do? Put on a big show, a big flashy show that we can't afford?"; he soon realizes he will lose the battle for a small wedding: "From then on, I was a dead duck"

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