Friday, November 07, 2014

Life With Father (1947)

A delightful and charming film, adapted from the Lindsay-Crouse Broadway hit about late-19th century Wall Street broker Clarence Day, whose devoted wife and children slyly but lovingly undermine his authority as the head of the household. A nostalgic look at the past and a richly-developed family comedy, the Broadway show was the longest-running non-musical play at the time, and the film adaptation, produced by Warner Bros. and directed by Michael Curtiz, appears to try very hard to stay true to its theatrical origins. The results work well due to Curtiz' expert direction, which manages to remain visually interesting throughout, achieving some subtly effective camera movements within the limited space of the Madison Ave. house and courtyard set. Indeed, it appears little effort was made to open the play up for the screen at all -- with only a few exterior street scenes taken on the backlot -- but when the source material and performances are this strong, it's hard to argue with the approach. It is more low-key than one might expect from a 1940s Hollywood comedy, trading the fast pace and clever dialogue of the screwball style for a slower, warmer, genteel kind of humor that arises naturally out of the characters.

The production design, costumes, and Technicolor cinematography all evoke a strong period atmosphere, bathed in hazy, pastel tones that conjure up a wistful sense of nostalgia for times gone by. William Powell gives one of the very best performances of his career as the stern but affectionate father, with Irene Dunne equally superb as his wife, and the two create a genuinely touching and rich screen couple. They are ably supported by Elizabeth Taylor in a really sweet and charming performance, as well as the fine character actors ZaSu Pitts and Edmund Gwenn.

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