Father’s Little Dividend

Father's Little Dividend - Elizabeth Taylor holds baby while Spencer Tracy looks on

One of my favorite movies is the 1950 film Father of the Bride starring the great Spencer Tracy and the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. In this delightful domestic comedy a young woman (Elizabeth) is getting married and her father (Spencer) has hilarious trouble dealing with all the emotional, financial, and organizational pain that comes with arranging a marriage. Father of the Bride was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay. The film was remade in 1991 as Father of the Bride starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, and Kimberly Williams. The remake follows the original story closely while putting a modern spin on everything. Most critics regard it as a “pleasantly enjoyable” movie while not quite as good as the first. But really I have a hard time deciding which version I like best. I love Spencer Tracy’s Father of the Bride then I see Steve Martin’s version and decide I love it best then I watch Spencer Tracy’s version again and change my mind and decide I love it best then I watch Steve Martin’s version again…and so on. It is a vicious circle but these are both great feel-good movies and I can watch both of them over and over again. Unfortunately neither one is in the Public Domain. But, luckily for us movie fans, both versions of Father of the Bride had sequels and the 1951 sequel of Spencer Tracy’s version fell into the Public Domain in 1978 when somebody crewed up royally and forgot to renew the copyright of Father’s Little Dividend and several other MGM films.

Father of the Bride

MGM Studios had a huge hit with Father of the Bride so they immediately made a sequel with the same cast, filmed the new movie in a mere 22 days, and had Father’s Little Dividend in theaters only ten months after the first film. The sequel continues where the original left off with newly married Kay Banks Dunstan (Elizabeth Taylor) announcing that she is expecting a baby and her father Stanley Banks (Spencer Tracy) struggling to survive the excitement of a first pregnancy and to adapt to his new status of “Grandpa”. Vincente Minnelli is back as director and the entire cast from Father of the Bride reprise their roles. This is just wonderful and makes watching the sequel like coming home to visit family. Father’s Little Dividend is a great fun movie, not quite as good or as feel-good as the first film, this movie is more episodic with some overly contrived situations. But Spencer Tracy is wonderful as the gruff but loveable dad who worries about everything and really does not want to change his family title from “Dad” to “Grandpa”. And Elizabeth Taylor is just so sweet and stunningly lovely as expecting daughter Kay. The entire Banks – Dunstan families are immediately swept up into hilarious new-baby madness while poor Stanley grumps around worrying about how the new baby will change all their lives and whether his daughter and new son-in-law can afford the expense of expanding their family. It is funny and delicious and very real to life and Stanley’s voice overs really helps movie fans dive right into the heart of the story. But as sweet and amusing as Father’s Little Dividend is, the behind-the-scenes lives of some of the actors was very different.

Actor Spencer Tracy had originally wanted his lover, actress Katharine Hepburn, to play his screen wife Ellie in the first film but the studio “felt that they were too romantic a team to play a happily domesticated couple with children”. Spencer was not too happy about the idea of doing a sequel. He felt sequels were rarely as good as the first time and he really did not want to reprise a role he had already played. He was looking for bigger acting challenges. But Katharine Hepburn convinced him he “owed” it to the studio to make the sequel plus it “made good business sense to do it”. Lucky for us movie fans because I really cannot imagine anyone else playing Stanley Banks (then, of course, I watch Steve Martin in the remake and I cannot imagine anyone else playing George Banks).

Father's Little Dividend - Elizabeth Taylor & baby

Elizabeth Taylor is just a stunning dream of a bride in the first film. So gorgeous, so fresh and lovely, and those fantastic eyes, just plain wow! And she also manages to actually act and bring the character of daughter Kay to life. She was just 18 years old and the premiere of Father of the Bride took place just two days after her first real-life marriage to Hilton Hotels heir Nicky Hilton (he was great-uncle to modern media stars Paris and Nicky Hilton). MGM Studios turned the wedding into a huge publicity campaign for the first film, Father of the Bride. Helen Rose, who designed Elizabeth’s film wedding dress, also designed her real life wedding dress.  Elizabeth, like her character Kay, became pregnant. Sadly, Elizabeth’s real married life was much, much worse than anything faced in her film character’s married life. Elizabeth’s husband, Nicky, was addicted to gambling and drinking and he was horribly abusive to his pregnant wife. He beat Elizabeth to the ground and kicked her in the stomach which caused a miscarriage and Elizabeth lost her first baby. The real life marriage only lasted eight months. By the time Father’s Little Dividend premiered, Elizabeth had already divorced the abusive hotel heir. Filming the sequel proved very hard for Elizabeth since she was portraying a pregnant bride in a mostly happy marriage, the exact opposite of her real life.

Actress Joan Bennett played Ellie, Stanley Banks’ wife, in both films. When the second film proved to be almost as big a hit as the first, MGM wanted to make a third movie. They hoped to make a series of successful Banks family films along the lines of the Andy Hardy family films. But in the December after the second film premiered, Joan Bennett became mired in a scandal that derailed both the plans for a third Banks film and her entire career. In December 1951, Joan met her long-time agent, Jennings Lang, to discuss an upcoming TV show. She parked her car and left with Lang in his car. Later, Joan’s husband, producer Walter Wanger drove by and spotted his wife’s parked car. When he drove by again a half hour later and saw her car still there, he decided to wait and see what his wife was doing. A few hours later Joan and her agent returned. Joan got in and started her car and turned on the headlights and Lang leaned against the car to say a few final words. Joan later said she did not even see her husband. She just saw two bright flashes as her husband shot her agent, once in the thigh and once in the groin. The agent survived and the husband threw himself on the mercy of the court and served four months then went back to his successful career making films. But, while Joan Bennett denied ever having an affair with her agent and remained married to Wanger for a few more years, the scandal destroyed her career and any chance of another Father of the Bride movie sequel (although there was eventually a short lived TV series in 1961 with a completely different cast). Joan once said “I might as well have pulled the trigger myself”. She only made five movies in the following ten years and the co-star of one of those movies, Humphrey Bogart, had to plead with the studio to allow her to keep her role in We’re No Angels (1955).

Spencer Tracy and Donald Clark in Father's Little Dividend

Despite the unhappiness behind the scenes, Father’s Little Dividend is amusing film. Spencer Tracy is excellent as the grumpy grandpa-to-be, Elizabeth Taylor is sweet and lovely as the newly married and pregnant daughter, and Joan Bennett is quietly funny as the happy grandma-to-be. There are hilarious moments and a few tearful moments. But there are also some seriously contrived moments: would even reluctant grandpa Stanley Banks really make the blunder he does in the last part of the film? Stretching it a bit. This sequel is a worthy successor to the first, not quite as good but close, a little more disjointed than the first, but the great cast helps the movie flow over the rough spots. While the first movie, Father of the Bride, and its 1991 remake have very similar story lines, the sequels, 1951’s Father’s Little Dividend and 1995’s Father of the Bride II, have vastly different story lines. The only things similar is that the daughter is expecting and grandpa-to-be is having a hard time accepting the changes. All four movies are hugely funny and among my favorite movies. Luckily Father’s Little Dividend is in the Public Domain and can be watched online or downloaded completely FREE at the Internet Archive. Father’s Little Dividend is in black and white and runs 82 minutes. The film pretty much avoids the problem of too much darkness that older films often suffer from. There is some blurriness but the quality varies among the various versions available on IA. Audio quality is excellent. Internet Archive has five versions of Father’s Little Dividend available. Three of them offer pretty good video quality with little blurriness: Version #1, Version #2, and Version #3. Version #4 is the blurriest but currently has the most views. Version #5 has pretty good video quality but you first must wade through some added on corny modern comedy as this version is part of the Weirdness Really Bad Movie series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s