Life With Father: Review
The suave and sophisticated William Powell was never cast so against type as he was in Life with Father, a wonderfully charming and amusing story of a very prim and proper turn-of-the- (20th) century family in New York City.
Life with Father is one of my favorite William Powell films, and I’m a pretty big fan so, that’s really saying something. It’s my belief that there isn’t a William Powell film not worth seeing, and plenty that are not to be missed (Mister Roberts, My Man Godfrey, and anything with Myrna Loy). Those less familiar with the rakishly charming 1930s matinee idol are likely to remember him best for The Thin Man series. The heavy drinking Nick Charles was a character similar to most of Powell’s other roles throughout his career.
However, in Life with Father, Powell plays a very different sort of man, one who is as strict and obedient with his life and family as Nick Charles was easy-going and cavalier. Seeing Powell in this whole different persona is half the fun of watching the film. The other half is seeing the usually independent and headstrong Irene Dunn (The Awful Truth, Love Affair) portray his demure little wife who bends to her husband’s every whim.
Powell is the domineering master of his household. He is a conservative businessman who holds to his standards as stiffly as his collars hold to his neck. He has several sons, all with the same flaming red hair as his own, and all with the natural instinct to be boys which causes varying degrees of distress to father. Their adventures are genial enough, and no one would seriously disobey father, but it seems that even the slightest change in routine is enough to send this man of habitual order into an absolute tirade. For example, an unexpected visit by some female cousins (including a very young Elizabeth Taylor) is considered by father to be an absolute miscarriage of social decorum. Apparently, having women in the house is something father will not tolerate, except his wife and servants. But of course to father that is entirely different.
The story may sound a bit bland for a movie plot line but the entire cast makes the most of their performances, and Powell even earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor of 1947. Likewise, the set design works so well at creating the illusion of another place and time that it too earned an Oscar nomination. Other major talents involved with the production include the acclaimed director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood), legendary composer Max Steiner (Gone with the Wind, Top Hat), and the wacky character actress, Zasu Pitts(Greed, Ruggles of Red Gap).
Of course, given the setting the comedy is as respectable as mom’s apple pie, and is a film the whole family can enjoy without reservation or concern. Life with Father may even become a household favorite to be viewed annually on Father’s Day, ideal for lifting the spirits of any dad. But be warned - he may get ideas.