It’s been oft said that comedy is tragedy that happens to others. If one needs any more proof of that, he/she needs go no further than two recent additions to the Warner Archive Collection, the DVD-R made-to-order 1948 Warners title JUNE BRIDE and the new Blu-Ray of the 1950 classic FATHER OF THE BRIDE.
Getting married has been noted as a frequently stressful experience; the prep for getting married is worse. And the prep for getting hitched in America is a fucking nightmare. It’s cleaned more people out than Vegas, sent many a parent into therapy and destroyed long-term relationships by trying to essentially please people that you don’t otherwise give a crap about.
The movies were quick to glom on to this commiseration of misery, dating back to the silent days. But it’s the post-war arrival of two high-profile comedies that permanently cemented the feet of brides, grooms, parents, brothers and sisters into a pail, which was then unceremoniously tossed into the sea of debt.
And, oh, yeah, there’s rarely been a more fun time at the picture show!
1948’s JUNE BRIDE proves once again that when Warners lassos a winner, they never let it go. The movie, about New York sophisticates in small-town America, liberally takes swatches from such past WB hits as The Man Who Came to Dinner, Christmas in Connecticut, Janie, etc. The plot teams two snarky adversaries, Dinner‘s Bette Davis, and Robert Montgomery, who work rather well together. Montgomery comfortably slides into the role of forcibly removed foreign correspondent who, now that the war is over, is relegated to Davis’ woman-oriented Home Life Magazine (add Hi, Nellie to the Warners reference rack). Davis plays it like Regina Giddens by way of George S. Kaufman (the premise being that the pair must prepare an Indiana family’s June wedding for the main periodical feature). The caveat(s): Davis and Montgomery are former lovers, and the latter, sickened by the treacle, is determined to add spice to his piece by stirring things up. He doesn’t have to look too far, as, under the surface, the Brinker family is quite a load. Papa Tom Tully is a closet moonshiner, hiding bottles of jack a la Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, mom’s an overweight dim (social-)light (Marjorie Bennett). Teen babe Boo (Betty Lynn) is panting for the groom (Raymond Roe), her one-time boyfriend, stolen by superficial sib Jeanne (Barbara Bates) when his older bro ditched her. No wonder Montgomery wrings his hands with glee, anxious to get down to some dirty work. Coupled with their Manhattan crew (Mary Wickes, Fay Bainter and George O’Hanlon) in tow, there are many ripples of laughs, and even a few eyebrow-raising guffaws.
It all begins early-on when cowardly publisher Jerome Cowan informs Montgomery of his new gig. To break the ice, he gives the famed journalist a tour of his leather-walled office. “Must be like living in a wallet,” muses the ace reporter.
And it continues.
“What are these harpies like?” asks Montgomery before he is bitch-slapped by Davis into silence. “Do they have plumbing?” The dull home is in as much need of a fashion upgrade as Mrs. Brinker (Davis demands that they take some weight off her before the shoot. “What with – a hacksaw?” is the response). Wickes first look at the abode is priceless: “A real McKinley stinker!”
The crème de la crème comes when an inebriated Tully is privy to a misinterpreted conversation regarding his wife’s treasured bust (i.e., architecture vs. anatomy). Alarmed that it has been “removed to the garage,” he becomes even more horrified to learn that they “painted it black.” This is nothing when compared to the follow-up, when the New Yorkers lament about the supposed item’s coverage in the magazine. “It’s pretty battered, but seems to have a certain sentimental value.”
Smoothly directed by Bretaigne Windust, JUNE BRIDE benefits from a breezy script by Mildred Pierce‘s Ranald MacDougal (adapted from a play by Eileen Tighe and Graeme Lorimer). Anton Grot did the sets, David Buttolph composed the score (utilizing a segue into “Love Nest”). The great Ted McCord photographed the pic (a far cry from his other 1948 outing, Treasure of the Sierra Madre).
An interesting sidebar: When Montgomery’s character is probing to find journalistic mud on the Brinkers, he is apprised of Uncle Henry. Hoping for a mass-murderer, the eager writer presses for details. “We don’t talk about him. He’s a Republican.” Nice to know that in almost seventy years things in Indiana remain status quo.
Far better known than JUNE BRIDE, 1950’s FATHER OF THE BRIDE is an unabashed comedy classic, directed by Vincente Minnelli and featuring an all-star cast, headed by Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett and Elizabeth Taylor.
There’s really very little to say to commend this pic, as it’s such a perennial on TCM and for fans of the stars and the director. But to see it in a new 1080p Blu-Ray transfer is indeed an event far more joyous than some of the supposed merry situations faced by the characters in the flick.
The script, by old reliables Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, is based on a bestselling novel by Edward Streeter. Streeter was the go-to guy when it came to parodying the American middle-upper-middle class family of the post-war/baby boomer years (another favorite Streeter screen adaptation is 1962’s Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation). Streeter’s key protagonists were the male household heads, usually employed as lawyers or bankers. BRIDE‘s flustered and frustrated narrator and primary player is Stanley Banks, whose usual comfortably, boring lifestyle is violently (albeit riotously) uprooted when his only daughter, Kay, announces her engagement to Buckley, someone he barely recalls. “What’s his last name? I hope it’s better than his first one.” Dealing with relatives, mercenary wedding merchants, and even Coke bottles becomes a battlefield of a seemingly impossible winnable war. And Banks is the first to see the analogy between his last name and bankruptcy.
The movie is concurrently hilarious and frightening. A Banks dream of terror where he is thrown into an expressionistic Caligari-esque world of melting church floors, demonic guests and unforgiving loved ones is a brilliantly staged sequence, beautifully shot by the wonderful John Alton. The Adolph Deustche music is another plus, as are the roster of memorable supporting actors, including Leo G. Carroll, Melville Cooper, Paul Harvey, Don Taylor, Frank Orth, Carleton Carpenter, Russ Tamblyn, Charles Smith, Frank Cady, Willard Waterman, Jeff York, Dewey Robinson and former silent stars Dorothy Phillips, Philo McCullough, Harold Miller and Stuart Holmes.
Not surprisingly, FATHER OF THE BRIDE was a mammoth hit, and soon MGM geared up to reunite the Banks family (and Minnelli) for Father’s Little Dividend, chronicling the birth of the title lead’s first grandchild. This, too, proved box-office gold, and producer Pandro Berman and the Metro suits announced a third and more elaborate installment wherein the Banks take a European holiday. The picture was to be lensed in Technicolor and shot on-location, utilizing MGM’s still considerable Euro frozen funds. But it was not to be.
Apparently, from day one, Tracy and Bennett did not see eye-to-eye (and that’s putting it mildly). Although the pair had costarred together as far back as in 1933’s pre-Code gem Me and My Gal (directed by Raoul Walsh), they each experienced a strong hate-at-first-sight mix. Strange, as their on-screen characters melded so well together. Indeed, in the BRIDE pictures, they really do act like a married couple, but one whose union exhibits subtle cracks (wise and otherwise). Check out Bennett’s glaring at Tracy’s scene-stealing tricks, or relishing her line (“Well you’re not an alcoholic!”) about his worrying about whether to imbibe or not. Tracy’s serious drinking problem was one of Hollywood’s worst-kept secrets.
Berman had tolerated the pair’s bickering on two successive movies for the sake of the studio (and the big receipts). A third reunion, away from the studio, might result in an international incident involving celebrity murders. Early-on, Tracy demanded a meeting with the frazzled producer. During the session he outlined his own ideas for the third Banks adventure. He basically announced that all the audiences cared about were his character and Liz Taylor’s (probably true), so here was what he proposed: Ellie (Bennett’s role) breaks her leg or needs to visit a sick relative on her side of the family and will join them later on. Getting her out of the way would allow for Stanley and Kay (Liz) to frolic through Europe with many comedic misadventures.
Berman could see the writing on the wall, and no sooner had Tracy left than Bennett opted for equal time. She, too, had a blueprint for the new scenario: Stanley has a last-minute emergency court case and will join the girls later. Meantime, she and Taylor could cavort through Rome, Paris, London, etc., attend fashion shows, be pursued by gigolos… And so it would go.
As Berman’s ulcers planned a mass counterattack, he quietly pulled the plug on the project and the continuation of the series, thus dually preventing a potential on-going franchise and likely bloodbath.
Interestingly enough, while Tracy owns the Stanley Banks role, he wasn’t the first choice. Initially Jack Benny was bandied about as a natural for Banks (a gag being the name itself). I imagine that the comedian would have done justice to the part, and certainly would not have caused any of the turmoil that went on behind the scenes. But, again, Spencer Tracy’s genius is his natural amiability, his magnificent penchant to turn food, shoes, and other inanimate props into veritable costars. “Don’t let them catch you at it,” was his acting advice to novice board-trodders.
The Blu-Ray comes with sparse extras, but ones worth mentioning: silent newsreels of Taylor’s real-life (first) wedding, plus a White House screening and cast meeting with Harry Truman. It’s a rare glimpse of Tracy off-camera, and he seems to be having a grand time. So will you.
JUNE BRIDE. Black and white. Full frame [1.37:1]; 2.0 mono audio. CAT # 1000564782. SRP: $21.99.
FATHER OF THE BRIDE. Black and white. Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. CAT# 1000597141. SRP: $21.99.
Available exclusively through the Warner Archive Collection: www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive, or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-Rays are sold.