Most people don’t make it a goal in their lives, but I knew from an early age that, if there was one thing I was going to make sure didn’t happen to me, it was to have children. I won’t go into all of my reasons here, but one of them is so I wouldn’t have to go through any of the struggles Spencer Tracy endures in 1950’s Father of the Bride.
This comedy opens on a long tracking shot of debris following what appears to be a raucous party, finally ending on an exhausted Tracy collapsed in a chair. He has survived the day, having married off his daughter. As Tracy tells us in voiceover, “Someday in the future, I may be able to remember it with tender indulgence.” And so we crossfade into a flashback that will be the bulk of the film.
In a funny montage, we see a succession of his daughter’s past boyfriends that didn’t meet dad’s approval. But when your daughter is Elizabeth Taylor, I would probably be apprehensive, as well. I mean, just look at how many times she married in real life.
Tracy doesn’t even approve of Don Taylor, and I don’t know what his problem is with that guy. I would think a guy dressed in a suit and who has career aspirations would be any father’s dream. Regardless, he is going to become Tracy’s son-in-law.
His impression of his daughter’s fiancée will improve after a lengthy man-to-man talk that Tracy believes was excellent despite (or, more likely, because) the younger man not being able to get a word in edgewise.
Once the planning of the big day gets underway, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the cynical humor would play well today. I guess that’s why it has been remade at least twice already. As the total Tracy and his wife (Joan Bennett) will be shelling out skyrockets, there are observations such as, “It’s only two syllables from bank to bankruptcy.” As they meet an increasing number of people who appear to have little to no relationship to anybody on either side of the family, his social skills become strained: “We did more bare-faced lying in a few minutes than we had in our entire lives.”
The engagement party feels not only contemporary, but would play well in this era of cringe comedy. Having been informed martinis will be all anybody will be drinking, Tracy makes a ridiculous number of them. Of course, everybody at the gathering wants anything but a martini, so he ends up tending bar in the kitchen for the duration. When Bennett asks him why he’s been in the kitchen so long, he replies, “What do you think I’m doing in here, filling prescriptions?”
The soundtrack at this point in the film is like an Altman picture, with everybody talking over one another. Tracy: “I thought a wedding was supposed to be a joyous occasion. This is a business convention.” He doesn’t even get to read the speech he prepared. Instead, some drunk asshole gets ahead of his notes and sarcastically reads it aloud to the assembled gifts. He positively brays with laughter over Tracy’s note to “wait for laughter”.
Taylor isn’t given much to do here except look beautiful which, given her age at the time this was made, presumably came effortlessly to her. She does get at least one memorable line in, as she offloads one of her worries onto Bennett’s shoulders: “Funny how as soon as you got somebody else worrying, you stop worrying yourself”
I’m not sure how accurate Father of the Bride was about planning a wedding then, or how much it is now. I just know I have heard enough horror stories from others in the same situation to realize early on that I intended to dodge that bullet. I have no idea why more people don’t approach wedding planning the same way my wife and I did: we eloped.
Dir: Vincent Minnelli
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett
Watched on Warner Archive blu-ray