Vincente Minnelli’s FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950)

Weddings are joyous occasions, they encompass those moments when two hearts promise to forever act as one. Fantasy surrounds this union, which lends beautifully to screen stories told since cinema first awed audiences in the first part of the 20th Century. What has rarely been told are wedding stories focused on other people aside from the bride and groom. Today I tackle a memorable story told with humor and heart about the Father of the Bride released in 1950, helmed by Vincente Minnelli starring a memorable cast.

Stanley T. Banks (Spencer Tracy) sits on an arm chair amidst a sloppy living room removing his shoes. Stanley is in a tuxedo, immediately following the celebration of the wedding of his daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) to Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor). Stanley’s demeanor is one of relief, the relief of a war weary soldier who’s just returned home from combat. He smiles and talks directly to us as he recounts the happenings of the last three months starting with the moment when Kay announced she accepted Buckley’s marriage proposal, one Stanley heard with disbelief. How could his baby daughter Kay be ready for marriage? Who is this Buckley character anyway? The answers to those questions come slowly to Stanley and not without major stressors pressing against his emotions and his wallet. Weddings, as it turns out, are not what they used to be.

The first clue Stanley gets that Kay’s impending nuptials are an unnatural occurrence comes from his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) who begins planning the wedding as soon as Kay makes her announcement. Stanley can hardly believe it. Who is this woman he’s married to? Does she not love their daughter? Is he the only one with sense? The answers to those questions come slowly to Stanley and not without major stressors pressing against his emotions and his wallet.

Against Kay’s objections Stanley and Ellie arrange to meet Buckley’s parents. Buckley has established that he has a good job and can support Kay, but where does he come from? As it turns out, Doris and Herbert Dunstan are good people. Mr. and Mrs. Dunstan, played by Moroni Olsen and Billie Burke respectively, turn out to be lovely and rich, but their first meeting with the Bankses turns out to be an awkward affair. Stanley gets drunk and eventually falls asleep mid-conversation. Here he was ready to judge the hosts harshly, but makes a fool of himself instead. Isn’t that always the case? Judgmental people usually end up in situations where they are judged harshly. Mr. Banks is no exception. Still, the Dunstans cast no lasting shame on the father who did nothing but talk about his Kay all evening. Until he fell asleep.

The remainder of the next three months, as Stanley Banks tells it, are lessons in frustration. Stanley is little more than a bar tender during Kay’s engagement party. The wedding plans go haywire when the proposed small affair turns out into a monster event with costs spiraling out of control. For instance, Stanley cannot believe his ears when Ellie and Kay shop for a wedding gift for Buckley. For Buckley? Isn’t he giving Buckley Kay? And he loses it when the guest list grows to an astronomical number. It all gets so bad that Stanley tries to bribe Kay into eloping, which flabbergasts Ellie. But there’s just so much a man can take.

Stanley’s only shred of light during this time are his two other children – SONS – for which he will not be expected to pay for anything. It brings him momentary joy to think of those future fathers of the brides and the hell that awaits them. The universe is fair after all. By the way, Russ Tamblyn and Tom Irish play Tommy and Ben Banks. You may recognize their faces.

Ellie, Stanley, and Kay Banks on Kay’s wedding day

As the wedding nears Kay is confronted with a heartbreaking proposition from Buckley, one that threatens the nuptials. Buckley has the nerve to suggest that they spend their honeymoon fishing in Nova Scotia. Kay comes home in tears appalled by Buckley’s selfishness. Suddenly we see Stanley the loving father, the guy who quells her fears and tells her everything will be just fine. Kay and Buckley reconcile soon enough, but we now see – despite all of Stanley’s complaints – that all he wants is his daughter’s happiness. In fact, he seems the only person who’s all in for the wedding rehearsal trying to take those proceedings seriously while everyone, including the priest, shrug off the entire affair.

Stanley shows his tender side in earnest on the day of the wedding when throughout the reception he tries to find a way to kiss the bride. Here we see a vulnerable father in pain, his little girl now a woman no longer by his side. There is no sign of the successful lawyer he is as he runs into people, desperate to reach his child. I cry every time I see Stanley running around the crowded reception in vain. This is beautifully done by the veritable actor.

The couple is oblivious to Stanley’s frustration evident is in this wedding portrait

In the end Kay calls her pop and thanks him for everything and tells him she loves him. Suddenly the heartache and stress were all worth it. A lovely, entertaining movie comes to an end as Stanley and Ellie dance amidst the post-reception debris that surrounds them.

Father of the Bride enjoyed its premiere in New York City in May 1950 and was met with great reviews. Based on the novel of the same name by Edward Streeter with a screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the films delivers the poignancy required to make this comedy a memorable one from the moment we see Tracy slumped wearily on that chair. It’s an astounding, natural performance exhibiting a wide range of emotion as his sense of importance to the bride and proceedings dwindle. Of course it helps that Spencer Tracy is supported by a terrific group of players that follow in kind. The lovely Joan Bennett is believable as the mother of a bride that resembles her, Elizabeth Taylor, who is charming as the love-sick daughter. Then you have Moroni, Burke, and Leo G. Carroll, as the wedding planner/caterer, who enhance the experience. For those reasons Father of the Bride received three Academy Award nominations: a Best Actor nod for Tracy, one for the screenplay, and one for Best Picture. Although this film didn’t stand a chance against the titans in the 1951 Oscars race, they were well-deserved honors.

Audiences so enjoyed Stanley T. Banks’ take on his daughter’s wedding that Vincente Minnelli reunited with the cast a year later for a delightful sequel, Father’s Little Dividend. I’m not sure Middle America has ever told the story of a wedding and its aftermath better. Well, Middle America via Hollywood. Watch both of these movies then visit the Wedding Bells Blogathon for which this entry is intended. All promise love and understanding till death do us part.

Visit Hometowns to Hollywood and the Wedding Bells Blogathon for the celebration of multiple nuptials.

8 thoughts

  1. This is as lovely and winning an article on this movie as anyone would hope to read. Watching Father of the Bride, which I call “spending an evening with Spencer Tracy”, is such a pleasure, such a riches of emotions. I would probably have given it all the awards, but what do I know?

  2. My favorite part of this movie is when Spencer Tracy is gettign fitted for his tux and he has a completely defeated look on his face…and he knows this is only the beginning!

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