January 13, 2017

Spencer Tracy, Father of the Bride

as Stanley T. Banks

I've had a complicated relationship with Spencer Tracy - anyone who’s read some of my 30s reviews knows that. Though when I try to boil it down as to why - I don’t have a concrete answer. Part of it is attributed to a quick succession of (what in my opinion were) fruitless performances within that 1936-1938 timeframe - first impressions tends to stay with you after all. Another part of is due to Tracy as a performer - he’s not a showboater and he doesn’t exactly command your attention with his acting - his is a more simple style and presence, and I prefer actors and performances that resonate. And so, with Father of the Bride, I was expecting more of the same, albeit with a few more chuckles.

That said, this was probably the first time in which I've actively loved a film of Tracy's. Minnelli's direction is top notch, the story and acting are charming, and Tracy's work as the eponymous curmudgeony father is - while simplistic - the enduring heart of the a delightful picture. Do I personally nominate Tracy here? Yes - surprisingly so. Do I think it's truly one of the best performances that 1950 had to offer? Surely not. 

The part of Stanley is pretty ordinary in its makeup, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. Part of Father of the Bride's greatness for me was its legs in staying compelling with a fairly basic story premise. As such, Tracy's work in the film is all-around straightforward and to-the-point in execution, though what was interesting here is how he demonstrated a greater ability to play up the comedic subtleties of the script very well, certainly more so than what I had seen in Woman of the Year or Adam's Rib. Throwing curt expressions all throughout the film, I found myself chuckling at him as Stanley navigates through a variety of silly situations. 

Perhaps that's why I had such a good time with him. There's no clear signs of arduousness to this film, no sense of try-hardiness; he isn't a man of God preaching positive principles, he isn't taxing himself with a crazy foreign accent, and he isn't surrounded by young children in plot arcs that are swollen with trite sentimentality. He's just playing a normal, believable guy and seems to have had a lot of genuine fun in the process, and I suppose this is one of the times in which the simplicity of everything all works to his benefit. 

Still awaiting the arrival of the definitive Spencer Tracy performance that blows me out of the water, but for the time being, his work here is a step in the right direction in my book.


  1. Replies
    1. While I think Bennett's role is somewhat thankless, she has good chemistry with Tracy and provides a centered, calming presence to the film. Nothing flashy but reliable.

  2. I generally like Tracy more than you, Allen, but I appreciate your misgivings. He was a sparse actor who eschewed the more flamboyant techniques used by actors like Muni or Olivier, and his subtle underplaying is not for everyone. Tracy's approach was to be as natural as possible which, at times, means that if the role's not much neither is the performance. That's where his work in FOTB fits well. You genuinely believe this is a man who's reacting truthfully to the craziness around him and, given the situations he's faced with, it's funny in a natural, unforced way. Is it phenomenal, award-worthy work? Not really ... but it's a solid performance nonetheless.

  3. I didn't see this one till very late, and it surprised me that I liked it as much as I did. It's the material Tracy made between Black Rock and Nuremberg for which I like him best, and he's on his way to it at this point. Not nominated, but I liked Tracy too just earlier than this one in State Of The Union, where you also get Angela Lansbury 'sinking a fine fang,' in a warm up to her outstanding Eleanor Iselin. I've read too, that since the teamings got underway with Hepburn, Father was the only film that either made without the other that was a genuine profit gusher.