Posts Tagged ‘Edmund Gwenn’

My Classic Movie Pick: Life With Father

I must have been 11 0r 12 years old the first time I saw the 1947 film Life With Father.   I remember enjoying this old movie that I stumbled upon one afternoon.  The movie was funny, it was shot in gorgeous technicolor and  the side-plot of whether or not Father would ever get baptized was amusing to me.

Life With Father

 

When I next rewatched the movie, as a college student, I realized that a young Elizabeth Taylor was in this film and a very young Martin Milner, pre- Route 66 and Adam-12 days.  I knew by this point that the parents were played by William Powell, who was pitch perfect as the bombastic father, Clarence Day Sr. and the lovely Irene Dunne was  excellent as the  loving, but fiscally- challenged  wife, Vinnie.  I also learned  that Life With Father actually had its beginning as a book, written by Clarence Day Jr.  From this book came a Broadway play and then the hit film.  When I learned that blogs The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel’s Theatre Reviews were hosting a blogathon devoted to stage plays that were turned into films, I decided to participate with Life With Father.  Be sure to visit the two sites in order to read about more movies that began life on the stage!

 

Stage to screen blogathon

Owning my late grandmother’s encyclopedia set from 1957 I was able to find a bit more info on  the real Clarence Day Jr.  Born in 1874, he grew up in  New York City, his father, Clarence Day Sr., nicknamed Clare, was a stockbroker.  Day’s grandfather, Benjamin H. Day founded the New York Sun newspaper.  Clarence Jr. grew up in an upper middle class family, graduated from Yale, and went into the same brokerage firm where his father worked.  Clarence Jr. joined the US Navy to fight in the Spanish-American War, but afterwards he became afflicted with crippling arthritis and had to live the rest of his life as a semi-invalid.  During this time, Clarence Jr. began writing and his first major literary success was a book, God and My Father.  Next came the book, Life With Father, a humorous look at life in 1890s New York City with his domineering, loud, but lovable father and the rest of the Day family.    Clarence Jr. died in 1935, and several more of his books were published posthumously.  The 1937 book, Life With Mother, was also successful and in 1939, Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse wrote a play based upon God and My Father, Life With Father, and Life With Mother.  What was astounding is that this new play, Life With Father, was such a hit with audiences that it ran for over seven years to become the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway.

Warner Brothers brought the rights to the play in order to turn it into a film and Donald Ogden Stewart wrote the screenplay.  Michael Curtiz directed, and in addition to William Powell and Irene Dunne, as Clarence Sr. and Vinnie, they were joined by: Jimmy Lydon as Clarence Jr., Martin Milner as John, Johnny Calkins as Whitney, and Derek Scott as the youngest son, Harlan.  Zasu Pitts portrays Vinnie’s cousin, Cora, visiting from Ohio, and Elizabeth Taylor plays Mary Skinner, a  traveling companion of cousin Cora’s.  Edmund Gwenn is Reverend Dr. Lloyd, who has to carefully deal with an unbaptized Clarence Sr., and maids for the family are played by Emma Dunn, Heather Wilde, Mary Field, Queenie Leonard, and Nancy Evans.

The Day Family. front row: Whitney, Father, Harlan.  Back row: John, Clarence Jr., Mother.

The Day Family. front row: Whitney, Father, Harlan. Back row: John, Clarence Jr., Mother.

The film is fast-moving, with various plots woven throughout it, all leading to the climax: will father get baptized or not?  While this might not seem funny, and may seem downright boring, it is told with humor and wit.  William Powell’s performance is the glue that holds this story together and he was so good in the part that he was a Best Actor nominee at the Academy Awards in 1948.

Powell getting some direction advice from Curtiz.

Powell getting some direction advice from Curtiz.

Powell’s Clarence Day Sr. is in his late 40s, and he works at an efficient office.  He believes that his home should also be run in an efficient manner, and when it isn’t-which is quite often-he feels compelled to honestly let all in the house know how displeased he is with this inefficiency.  He is loud, curt, and a bit oblivious to the fact that his wife, Vinnie, is really running things at home the way she wants them run.  Powell’s Clarence adores his wife and even though she can frustrate him, especially when she doesn’t understand purchasing items on credit and keeping to the budget he has set up, he still worships the ground she walks on.  A running gag in the film is the Day family’s inability to keep housemaids.  The maids are all afraid of Mr. Day, especially when he makes a loud outburst about something that has displeased him.  One maid, a new Irish immigrant, takes it as a bad sign that the Day’s are all redheads and when Mr. Day let’s loose with a loud complaint, this new maid quits.  Vinnie scolds Clarence Sr. for scaring off yet another maid so she says he has to hire the next one.  When Clarence Sr. gets to the employment agency to hire a new maid, the employment agency representative tells him, “Sir, before I can let any girl go from this establishment, I must know the character of the home in which she will be employed.” To which Mr. Day replies, “Madam,  I am the character of my home!”

Whitney saying his catechism

Whitney saying his catechism

Cousin Cora’s visit, which Vinnie knew about but forgot to tell Clarence Sr., is an irritant to him.  He doesn’t like the fact that they are putting Cousin Cora up at their house for a week and he rails against it, as he isn’t running a hotel.  He isn’t also happy that Vinnie has told Cora that they are taking her and Mary, her traveling companion, to Delmonico’s for dinner, a meal that Clarence Sr. doesn’t want to have to pay for as he believes the restaurant is too expensive.

Tolerating Cousin Cora's visit

Tolerating Cousin Cora’s visit

Father with his sons

Father with his sons

The sons, especially the oldest two, Clarence Jr. and John, add to the swirling plots of the film.  Clarence Jr. hates wearing his father’s old suits and wants a new suit of his very own.  He is hit with the love bug when he meets Mary Skinner and feels awkward around her if he’s wearing one of father’s suits.  He gets the urge to act like father would act and this upsets poor Mary!  John, always looking for a way to earn money, hires Clarence Jr. to help him sell a new medicine door to door.  Then Clarence Jr. will earn enough money to buy himself a new suit.  Unfortunately, John decides to give his mother some of the medicine and it doesn’t help Vinnie at all, in fact she becomes very sick and the doctor has to be called.

The lovely Mary Skinner, no wonder Clarence Jr. gets a crush on her!

The lovely Mary Skinner, no wonder Clarence Jr. gets a crush on her!

"Get off my lap!"

“Get off my lap!”

Telling Father he needs a new suit

Telling Father he needs a new suit

Mother understands why he wants a suit of his own

Mother understands why he wants a suit of his own

Whitney, the third son, is practicing his catechism in order to be confirmed in the Episcopal church the family attends.  During one of his practice sessions, Clarence Sr. admits that he’s never been baptized.  This news horrifies Vinnie and she asks him to get baptized or they won’t be reunited in Heaven.  Clarence Sr. scoffs at this notion, stating that God wouldn’t be able to keep him out of Heaven!  This dilemma even leads Vinnie to wonder if their marriage is legal!

Since this film, though autobiographical in nature, is mainly a comedy, you can  rest assured, there are happy endings for all of the characters.

"This film is a delight!"

“This film is a delight!”

Life With Father is available to purchase or even watch on instant rent at Amazon.  It’s also available through TCM’s Shop and through Netflix.   Also, the entire film is available to see on Youtube!  For a funny, endearing movie the whole family can watch, and with one of William Powell’s best performances, seek out Life With Father!

LWF poster 2

 

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My Classic Movie Pick: The Devil and Miss Jones

Labor Day  meant my kids were off of school and they had planned on making it a Musicals Monday.  The King  and I was on their playlist and so was Guys and Dolls.  I did a search of  Turner Classic Movies  for a specific romantic-comedy, the perfect film for  Labor Day: 1941’s  The Devil and Miss Jones.

The DEvil and MIss JOnes

The wonderful cast: Charles Coburn-department store tycoon John Merrick, Jean Arthur-store clerk Mary Jones, Robert Cummings-Joe O’Brien, Union organizer, Edmund Gwenn-Hooper, Section Manager, Spring Byington-Elizabeth Ellis, clerk, S.Z. Sakall-George, Mr. Merrick’s butler, William Demarest-First Detective.   Directed by Sam Wood, produced by Frank Ross(Jean Arthur’s husband at the time), Screenplay by Norman Krasna, and released by RKO Studios.

Coburn is John Merrick, the richest man in the world.  One  of his employees at one of his  department stores burned an effigy of him at an union organizing meeting.  Merrick  is determined to find out who did this, why, and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.   Merrick is truly mystified as to why any employees would be mad at him, why they would want a union,  and he’s determined to get to the bottom of this offensive act.

Merrick decides that he’ll  go undercover as a new store employee to find out about the union organizing.  He fires  the store detective and  then assumes the man’s name and employee info card.  Disguised  as Mr. Higgins, he  goes to work as a new clerk in the  shoe department, because he was told that it’s the “hotbed of discontentment” among all of the store’s employees.  It is here that Higgins meets Mary Jones(Arthur).  She takes pity on this old man who doesn’t want to eat lunch as he wants to prove to the Section Manager, Hooper(Gwenn), who treated him with great disdain, that he, Mr. Higgins, can sell shoes.  Mary  loans him 50 cents, tells him that he must take a lunch break,  and eventually  introduces him to Elizabeth Ellis(Byington) who nicely shares her lunch with him.  A bit of that scene can be viewed here.

Even though Jean Arthur got top billing in this movie, got the publicity posters to feature her, and her husband produced the movie, this movie is  Charles Coburn’s for the win.   He is absolutely wonderful as a wealthy man who has gotten out of touch with the world of the laborer.  He’s not quite an Ebenezer Scrooge or Mr. Potter type of bad, rich man, but he is cantankerous at first.  We see his character go through changes as he comes to meet and know some of his employees and it helps to make him a warmer, more responsible business owner and man who can use his wealth for good purposes.  We also get to see his character fall in love with Miss Elizabeth.  It is a sweet movie that dares to show two senior citizens falling in love!    Coburn was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 1941 Academy Awards for his efforts as Mr. Merrick/Higgins.

The film is fast-paced, there is mistaken identity aplenty with the Higgins ruse.  Merrick does find out who made the effigy and burned it-Joe O’Brien(Cummings) who is also the love of Mary’s life!  Near the end when all seems lost for Merrick, for the union, for Mary and Joe, happiness will come through and reign supreme.

The Devil and Miss Jones is available to purchase on a blu-ray at Amazon, it’s available to purchase at TCM’s Shop in a regular dvd format or a blu-ray, and here is another  clip from Youtube for the film: the opening credits with Coburn trying to look evil, and with an angelic Jean Arthur opposite him.

For your next Labor Day entertainment, or for a fun look at labor and managment circa 1941, seek out The Devil and Miss Jones.  Here are a few pics from the film:

Mary ordering the new sales clerk to be sure to take that lunch break.

Mary ordering the new sales clerk to be sure to take that lunch break.

Mr. Merrick really likes Miss Elizabeth.

Mr. Merrick really likes Miss Elizabeth.

Merrick, as Higgins, discovers that O'Brien made that effigy!

Merrick, as Higgins, discovers that O’Brien made that effigy!

Mr. Merrick, as Higgin's finds out Mary loves O'Brien, at a Coney Island outing.

Mr. Merrick, as Higgin’s,  finds out Mary loves O’Brien, at a Coney Island outing.