Life With Father (1947)

Life With Father (1947) Front Cover DVD

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William Powell returned to screen prominence in the title role of Life With Father (1947) and earned his third and last Best Actor nomination. Life With Father (1947) which was based upon the life of Clarence Day Sr. a governor on the New York Stock Exchange AND the longest running non-musical Broadway stage play at the time.

While some may dismiss Life With Father (1947) for its dated (to the point of archaic) expressions and attitudes about life they should remember that it was quaint at the time of its release. Indeed it is a time capsule of pre-turn-of-the-century New York when men were the unquestioned heads of their nuclear families; or were they? In fact as bombastic and outspoken as Day is he is in fact manipulated in subtle ways by his wife Vinnie whom he loves dearly. On the surface Day is in charge of the money and every household decision many of which he makes demonstratively by loudly proclaiming his dominance while often belittling his wife?s lack of sound logic. Vinnie however while she respects her husbands traditional position and accepts that he has a superior intellect doesn?t passively allow herself to be bowled over by him. She sticks to her principles and even wrongheaded notions in a forceful yet non-threatening way, though perhaps a little too frequently by crying such that Clarence out of his love for her or sometimes just exasperation has to give in.

There are hilarious scenes concerning the family finances which begin with Vinnie humbly having to ask for money or explain her spending that leave Clare confused and Vinnie with the cash or her desired result: a porcelain pug dog is returned to pay for their son's new suit of clothes. This battle of the sexes scenario is then transferred generationally when a puppy dog romance develops between Clarence Jr. (Jimmy Lydon) and visiting Cousin Cora's (Zasu Pitts) traveling companion Mary Skinner played by 15-year old Elizabeth Taylor. After a lesson about the need to be firm with women from Clarence Sr., a priceless scene that immediately precedes one in which Clare follows the advice he had just given his son with Vinnie telling her it is for your own good. When she cries Junior tells Mary that she must write him the minute she returns home from her visit to New York. But having been properly schooled Mary of course is determined to have him write to her first; she strikes a balance between using her tears and her will to get her way. Like Clare who doesn't know what he said that brought his wife to tears Junior is also clueless that he's been manipulated and he enthusiastically starts to write his first letter to Mary even before her horse cab has left their street. Outwardly the males have the authority but it is the females that wield real power something that is not really confined to the 19th century.

The other major storyline that demonstrates who wears the pants in the Day family has to do with the revelation that Clare has yet to be baptized. Vinnie is convinced that her husband won't be able to enter Heaven without correcting the situation the sooner the better and enlists the support of their children and Dr. Lloyd. But Clarence Sr. is adamant that he doesn?t need to be baptized saying "They can't keep me out of Heaven on a technicality" and if there is one place the Church should leave alone it is a man's soul! Upset or stirred up as Clare would say over her husband's eternal life Vinnie falls ill which is made worse when her entrepreneurial sons (Clarence Jr. and Martin Milner also fifteen in his screen debut and the only natural redhead as John) put Bartlett's Beneficent Balm a miracle cure they have signed up to sell, in her tea thinking it will help with her women's complaints. But their mother then really does become ill and the normally prudent Clare spares no expense to get Vinnie well even promising her that he will be baptized if she will just pull through. When she does he tries to excuse his actions and the argument continues but in the end, as always, Vinnie gets her way.


William Powell as Clarence Day Sr.
Irene Dunn as Vinnie
Elizabeth Taylor as Mary Skinner
Edmund Gwenn as Rev. Dr. Lloyd
Zasu Pitts as Cora
Jimmy Lydon as Clarence Jr.
Martin Milner as John
Emma Dunn as Margaret (cook)
Moroni Olsen as Dr. Humphries

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