The Hero’s Journey in “Life with Father”

A round-robin of praise is immediately in order for all those, and they were many indeed, who assisted in filming “Life With Father.” All that the fabulous play had to offer in the way of charm, comedy, humor and gentle pathos is beautifully realized in the handsomely Technicolored picture.

William Powell is every inch Father, from his carrot patch dome to the tip of his button-up shoes. Even his voice, always so distinctive, has taken on a new quality, so completely has Mr. Powell managed to submerge his own personality. His Father is not merely a performance; it is character delineation of a high order and he so utterly dominates the picture that even when he is not on hand his presence is still felt.

Most of the action still takes place in the living room of the Day residence, 420 Madison Avenue. The atmosphere of the period, 1883, is recaptured with all the rich flavor of a Currier & Ives print, even though Father’s “damns” have been excised. But his thunderous “oh, gads!” and explosive “what in tar-nations” are carefully preserved in the screen play written by Donald Ogden Stewart. However, while the camera provides a scope and fluidity of action which necessarily was missing on the stage, the benefits thus derived are more of a pictorial than a dramatic nature, for the pace of the story always accelerates when the camera is simply reproducing scenes as done on the stage.

“Life With Father” is not so much a story as it is a reflection of little incidents, which agitate a short tempered, despotic parent They are the kind of crises peculiar to family life, where a prudent husband and father of four sons attempts to run his home on a business-like basis. While Father goes into a towering rage at the slightest provocation, stamping his feet at the breakfast table when the coffee isn’t right, he is at heart a very kind, tolerant and sympathetic old man (and we use that term most affectionately).For all his bluff and independence, Father would be lost without his patient, understanding wife, and one feels genuinely sorry for him in his hour of anxiety when mother lies ill upstairs and the doctors give him small comfort. It is almost unpardonable not to have mentioned Irene Dunne before this because she interprets Vinnie Day with charm, wit and an exactness that perfectly complement Mr. Powell’s Father.

The way she finally cajoles her rebellious husband into making the journey up to Audubon Park to submit to the baptismal rites which his parents had somehow overlooked is handled by Miss Dunne with great charm and feminine wile. The four Day boys—all redheads, naturally—are pleasingly played by Jimmy Lydon, the eldest, who has a crush on the visiting Mary Skinner; Martin Milner as John, the inventor; Johnny Calkins as Whitney, who would rather play baseball than study his catechism, and Derek Scott as little Harlan, who worries about meeting his un-baptized father in heaven. Elizabeth Taylor is very appealing as Mary Skinner, and other fine performances are contributed by Edmund Gwenn as the Rev. Dr. Lloyd; ZaSu Pitts as Cousin Cora and a string of maids too numerous to mention here.

“Life With Father” has been expertly staged by the resourceful Michael Curtiz, who has made certain that none of the essential comedy is overdrawn.