Here comes Elizabeth…
Okay, so we’ve visited the Banks family once before, only this time we get to see more than their gorgeous house. In 1950, Elizabeth Taylor turned eighteen, so MGM began transitioning her into more adult roles, and one of her first was Father of the Bride. Based on the best-selling novel by then-popular author Edward Streeter and directed by Vincent Minnelli, the film is a sweet family story.
We see a room in disarray–confetti covering the floor, leftover bites of cake, empty champagne bottles. Stanley Banks is in the midst of it, looking a bit disheveled, sitting in a wing chair and emptying confetti out of his shoe. Just in case there’s any confusion about where this movie is going to go, he wearily remarks, “I’ve just been through a wedding. Not my own; my daughter’s.”
After a brief survey of the cycle of life, the entire story is told in flashback. Stanley is a lawyer who lives in Connecticut (New Jersey? Long Island? Upstate New York? Not sure.), and he comes home from work one day thinking of what a charmed life he has. His three kids are grown or almost grown, he has a gorgeous wife and a gorgeous house.
Stanley has just walked in the door when his wife, Ellie (Joan Bennett) greets him, followed by the maid, Delilah (Marietta Canty). Oldest son, Ben (Tom Irish) comes downstairs asking for the car. Then Tommy (Russ Tamblyn) strides by eating a sandwich on his way out the door. Last, but definitely not least is his only daughter, Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) who comes downstairs in her grubbies, having just washed her hair. She’s wearing an atomizer, a present from “somebody.” Kay seems to be all dreamy and blissful, which Stanley is curious about. He and Kay have a close relationship, calling each other “Pops” and “Kitten” respectively.
Over ice cream and cookies after dinner, Kay is still glowing, and Stanley starts to think something’s up. Ellie tells him Kay’s in love, and it’s probably a guy named Buckley. Stanley’s mind starts flicking through all of Kay’s current boyfriends, and he has no idea which one is Buckley. All he hopes is that it’s not the “muscle-bound ham with the shoulders.”
Whoever Buckley is, Kay has plenty to say about him. Buckley thinks everyone should marry young, and the parents should support them. He thinks there won’t be any depression (this was, of course, five years after the Second World War ended). He’s a wonderful businessman. And on and on.
“Are you going to marry this character?” Pops asks.
“I guess so,” says Kitten.
Stanley isn’t too happy with this development; in fact, like any protective father, he’s suspicious. Still, he tries to keep an open mind because it’s Kitten. Even when Buckley (Don Taylor) shows up to take Kay out and he does turn out to be the muscle-bound ham Stanley’s been dreading.
Ellie’s delighted about the engagement and is already thinking about wedding dresses for Kay, but she’s the only one. Even though Buckley is nice and polite and he and Kay love each other immensely, Stanley is still dubious about the whole thing. While Kay and Buckley are out Stanley unloads on Ellie his fears about Buckley being a con-artist with wives and kids stashed all over the place. He has Kay invite Buckley over for dinner to discuss finances, and just like a guy Stanley does most of the talking. The meeting puts Stanley’s mind at ease, though, so then it’s on to the wedding.
First on the agenda is meeting Buckley’s parents, the Dunstans. For some reason Stanley hopes they live in a shack, but it turns out to be the biggest house in the neighborhood. He and Ellie go inside to meet Doris (Billie Burke) and Herbert (Moroni Olsen), and everyone makes the requisite small talk. Stanley tells them all about Kay, probably more than they bargained for. The talk flows as does the liquor, starting with Madiera, followed by martinis, and sherry, and brandy, and no one is more thirsty than Stanley. Still, the Dunstans are nice people and everyone gets along famously.
Second on the agenda is to have an engagement party. Poor Stanley makes a tray of martinis and then can’t get out of the kitchen because everyone keeps coming in asking for drinks. By the time he finally emerges, all the guests have gone home except for one drunk fellow who seems to have too much time on his hands.
Oh, and then the wedding preparations start, and things are pricey. Very pricey. Three dollars and seventy-five cents a head. Might sound funny now, but it’s about forty dollars in today’s money, and when the guest list is five-hundred seventy-two? Ouch. That works out to over twenty-two thousand dollars, again, in today’s money. Stanley tries to cut corners wherever he can, like squeezing himself into his twenty-year old cutaway. One guess as to how that turns out.
Tensions rise. Emotions flare. And there are presents. Lots and lots of presents. The Banks’ house begins to look like a pawnbroker’s. And there may or may not be a dramatic will-the-wedding-really-happen moment.
Honestly, there’s not much surprise where Father of the Bride ends up–the title and introduction are a dead giveaways. Even so, it’s comforting to watch a process that’s so familiar and done so charmingly. Coming on the heels of the Second World War and at the beginning of the Korean War, it must have felt like being home again. It still feels that way.
The highlight of the film is the relationship between Stanley and Kay. Kay is a daddy’s girl, and the film isn’t just about a wedding, but about a father coming to terms with the fact that his daughter has grown up. He has to learn how to relate to her at a new phase in her life, and when it comes down to it, not much has really changed. When Kitten walks back up the aisle, she has a special smile just for Pops. It helped that in real life, Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy had a wonderful relationship, which they kept up until Tracy’s death.
Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in Father of the Bride hits all the right notes, and it was the perfect way to introduce her new maturity to audiences. One thing that never changed from one stage to another was the fact that the camera loved her. Plus, in a turn of events that even MGM couldn’t have dreamed up, Elizabeth married Nicky Hilton around the time of the film’s release, and some people speculated that it was a gag. It was definitely not a gag, although the marriage didn’t last.
The Banks’ story doesn’t stop with Kay’s wedding, but we’ll get to that tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and check with Crystal for more of Miss Elizabeth. See you all next time…