Ring a Ding Ding
I never thought I would see the day when I could dislike William Powell. The star of such great comedies as My Man Godfrey and the Thin Man movies could never be an outright asshole, or so I thought. In Life with Father Powell’s persona as the head of family is revealed in full before we ever see the man. The start of the film is seen from the perspective of a new maid in the 1880s homestead whose nerves at pleasing the specter of father, Clar(ence) Day, lead to a variety of comical bumblings and her quick departure from employment.
I had a difficult start with Life with Father because Powell’s character is so off-putting as a man who has to have everything his way and be in control of all circumstances within the home and without. Add to that the dreadful red hair and mustache and you have just about lost me. That is until I realize what is going on has less to do with father and more to do with Irene Dunne‘s mother figure. It might take the viewer a time to discover whether Vinnie Day is a ditz who cannot seem to keep track of the money she spends or a clever woman who knows just how to manipulate her husband to keep him from destroying their happy family.
A particularly enjoyable moment comes when Dunne explains to her husband that because their son returned a $15 pug statuette to the store and brought home a $15 suit, that none of his money was actually spent. While Powell insists that he either paid for the pug or the suit, Dunne assures him he could not have paid for the pug because they do not have it, and he could not have paid for the suit because it was gained by exchange of the pug. The conversation is nonsense, but Dunne plays it off with an almost air-headed reasoning that somehow soothes her husband to quiet.
Also in the picture is an adolescent Elizabeth Taylor, who plays a love interest for the eldest son, Clarence Jr. Because he shares a name with his father, a comedic thread works its way through the plot wherein Powell continually accepts the boy’s mail as his own. He is bewildered by a letter from a female he does not know who purports to have sat on his lap. Powell’s blood pressure rises at the accusations while the son prods him to continue reading, playing dumb to the letter being his.
I was drawn to Life with Father because of the pairing of Powell and Dunne, both great comedic actors. Although I was not convinced of it at first, I was surely rewarded for my faith in their talents.