This weekend I’ll be traveling with my family to attend a niece’s wedding. With the wedding on my mind, I thought I’d write about the original Father of the Bride movie, made in 1950, that starred Spencer Tracy as the father, Joan Bennett as the mother, and Elizabeth Taylor as the bride.
What I appreciate about this film is the family’s dynamic. In a flashback we meet Stanley Banks(Spencer Tracy)as he remembers and regales us with what has taken place in his family’s life during the past 3 months: his beloved daugther, Kay(Elizabeth Taylor) announcing to the family at dinner one night that she is in love with Buckley Dunstan(Don Taylor-no relation to Liz!) and she has accepted his proposal of marriage.
Stanley immediately realizes that this wedding is going to cost money, especially as he listens in on wife Ellie(Joan Bennett) and Kay’s animated discussions on dresses, music, food, flowers, caterers, registering for gifts, the cake! Younger brothers Tommy and Ben(Russ Tamblyn-the future Biff in West Side Story, and Tom Irish) wisely keep quiet and out of the way.
There is the obligatory dinner with the groom and his parents. Buckley only has eyes for his fiancee, and can’t see how annoying his ultra chatty and flighty mother(the good witch from The Wizard of Oz herself, Billie Burke) is, nor how his father(Moroni Olsen) and Stanley really have nothing in common. The uncomfortable dinner isn’t helped when Stanley drinks too much liquor and falls asleep in the Dunstan’s living room!
Stanley keeps urging a small, simple wedding but with Buckley’s mother now in on the plans with Kay and Ellie, Stanley’s ideas are ignored and he quietly resigns himself to the ladies’ plans, and to be there to walk Kay down the aisle and to give her away. As the wedding date draws near, Kay is upset when she finds out that Buckley’s idea for a honeymoon is a fishing trip in Nova Scotia and she calls the wedding off! It’s up to Stanley to calm her down and get her to see that she loves Buckley and that the two of them can work this disagreement out, and they do. There’s also a funny dream sequence Stanley has about walking Kay down the aisle and how it goes horribly wrong.
In 1991, Buena Vista -part of the Disney Company, re-made Father of the Bride, starring Steve Martin as the harried father. While I enjoyed that version, you really owe it to yourself to see the original film. Spencer Tracy is excellent as the harried father, worried about the wedding costs, and also sad that his baby girl is all grown up and getting married. He gives the role warmth and tenderness, with a wry touch of humor. He is the calm center of the film, while all the other characters are running around due to wedding prep activities. Elizabeth Taylor is just gorgeous in this film, and she also put forth just the right touches as the young bride to be, full of love for her fiance, excited about getting married, emotional at times, but understandably so.
MGM made a good profit from the film’s box office success and a sequel was made in 1951, Father’s Little Dividend, with the plot being that Stanley has to come to grips with the fact that daughter Kay is going to have a baby and that means he’ll become a grandfather. This film reunited the cast from the first film as well as director Vincent Minelli.
From time to time, this gem airs on Turner Classic, so check their monthly schedule online in order to catch when it will air again. The film is available on Amazon for purchase or to view through their instant rent program. The film is also available at TCM’s Shop.
The film, originally based upon the best-selling novel of 1949, Father of the Bride, by Edward Streeter, is a charming look at a put-upon father and how he copes with his daughter’s new role as bride and wife. Seek it out, and don’t let the 1991 version be the only version of this movie that you see.