We’re back at the Banks house, and the stork is circling the area. A year after MGM released Father of the Bride, Father’s Little Dividend came along. While not as strong as the first film, it’s another sweet family story, and united a cast and crew that had become a family away from the cameras.
Stanley Banks is sitting in the same wing chair he sat in at the beginning of Father of the Bride, and intones, “Man is a very delicate and sensitive instrument.” before regaling the audience about the feeling of freedom they get when it feels like their life is going to get a lot less stressful. “And that’s just when they choose to let you have it.”
Just as in the first film, the story is told in flashback. Stanley is on his way home from work again, and he’s feeling pretty good about his situation. It’s spring, his house is paid for, his kids are grown up or almost there, and he’s thinking he’s got a new lease on life. He comes in to find Ben studying and Tommy eating, so it’s a typical night. Ellie comes down and puts on her hat, telling Stanley they’ve been invited to Kay and Buckley’s apartment for dinner because they have an announcement. All she can think about is what it could be about, while all Stanley can think about is kissing Ellie.
The two of them get to Kay and Buckley’s apartment to find the Dunstans also waiting with bated breath. They all think maybe Buckley made a big new business deal, but what they’re really hoping for is a baby. And…they’ve all got their wish. Everyone is overjoyed, except for Stanley, who sees a fly in the ointment but can’t figure out what that would be. Until Herbert calls him Grandpa, that is.
Stanley’s full of chagrin. He can’t be a grandpa. Grandpas are old, decrepit codgers who delight in cutting people out of their wills. Stanley’s not that guy, and to prove it he puts in a long workout at the gym the next afternoon. Things feel pretty rugged, and then Stanley wakes up on Sunday morning unable to move. Ouch.
Ellie throws Kay a stork shower, and the house is swarming with girls and presents. Ellie has other ideas as well, such as having Kay and Buckley move in with them. She’s got it all planned out–knock down a few walls enlarge some things, and most importantly, she and Stanley will be right there to baby-sit if need be.
Great minds think alike, because Herbert and Doris have similar plans. Only in their case they want Kay and Buckley to move into a wing of their mansion. Ellie’s almost in tears, but then Kay and Buckley announce they’ve bought a house, and she suddenly cheers up.
Kay and Buckley’s new house is adorable, and Ellie throws herself into helping fix it up. The only part she can’t touch is the nursery, which the Dunstans insisted on remodeling, but buying an expensive HVAC unit for the window makes her feel better.
The parental units help in other ways, too. While listening to classical music on the record player Doris gave Kay, they talk about baby names. Kay and Buckley like Andrew. Ellie likes Timothy. Doris and Herbert talk about various family names like Cornelius and Bennington. Things get pretty passionate, and Stanley tries in vain to keep the discussion level. Meanwhile, the record player is churning out a torrid piece (Mahler, maybe?) that just makes the tension thicker. Poor Kay finally snaps.
Names aren’t the only points of contention. Doctor Nordell, Kay’s obstetrician, makes everyone nervous because he has newfangled ideas about childbirth. Kay’s nervous about Buckley because he’s been working late trying to make extra money, but she thinks he’s cheating on her. However, all this is nothing to waiting for the baby to show up. As Kay’s due date gets closer, Stanley and Ellie lay out their clothes every night “like fire fighters ready to jump at the first alarm.” After a false start or two, though, Kay does have the baby, of course, and an exhausted Buckley calls Stanley and Ellie with the news. Spoiler alert: It’s a boy.
The conflict in Father’s Little Dividend isn’t so much Stanley becoming a grandpa but getting away from the idea that being a grandpa means his life is over. It doesn’t help that his grandson cries whenever he looks at him. There are some sweet scenes between them later on, though, and it’s not ruining much to say that they mend fences.
As for Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in the film, there’s actually not a whole lot for her to do, in spite of the fact that we’re still talking about Pops and Kitten. She is the one who’s carrying the baby, after all. However, Elizabeth’s performance is well-done, considering what she was given. She and Spencer Tracy retained their warm rapport, and it’s nice to see her playing a young mother.
Again, the film isn’t as strong as Father of the Bride. It’s obvious MGM poured more money and resources into the first film, whereas Dividend had a small budget. The gym scene, for instance, was likely filmed in the executive gym on the fourth floor of the Thalberg Building. There also wasn’t as much care given to the score and other production details. Amazingly enough, MGM wanted to expand the Banks’ story into a whole series of films on the line of the Andy Hardy movies, but Spencer Tracy flat-out refused. He was afraid that the quality of the films would just keep getting worse. This turned out to be fortuitous reasoning, as the advent of TV caused the bottom to fall out of film serials anyway.
In spite of its being smaller than its predecessor, Father’s Little Dividend is an enjoyable, comfortable story, made up of a cast that clearly liked being together. Seeing it may be dicey, as it was allowed to lapse into public domain and there are copies of various quality on the market, but it’s time well-spent.
That wraps up my Day Two. Come back tomorrow when we’ll be talking about an aspect of Elizabeth Taylor’s life that was almost as celebrated as her beauty and talents. Until then, Crystal has more for you at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Thanks for reading, and see you on Tuesday!
This film is available on DVD from Amazon.