Life with Father (film)

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Life with Father
Life with Father - Film Poster.jpg
Theatrical Film Poster
Directed byMichael Curtiz
Screenplay byDonald Ogden Stewart
Based onLife with Father
1935 autobiography
by Clarence Day
1939 play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Produced byRobert Buckner
StarringWilliam Powell
Irene Dunne
CinematographyWilliam V. Skall
J. Peverell Marley
Edited byGeorge Amy
Music byMax Steiner
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • September 13, 1947 (1947-09-13) (US)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$6,455,000
Life with Father

Life with Father is a 1947 Technicolor American comedy film adapted from the 1939 play of the same name, which was inspired by the autobiography of stockbroker and The New Yorker essayist Clarence Day.[1][2]

It tells the true story of Day and his family in the 1880s. His father, Clarence Sr., wants to be master of his house, but finds his wife, Vinnie, and his children ignoring him until they start making demands for him to change his life. The story draws largely on Clarence Sr.'s stubborn, sometimes ill-tempered nature and Vinnie's insistence that Clarence Sr. be baptized. It stars William Powell and Irene Dunne as Clarence Sr. and his wife, supported by Elizabeth Taylor, Edmund Gwenn, ZaSu Pitts, Jimmy Lydon and Martin Milner.[3]


Stockbroker Clarence Day is the benevolent curmudgeon of his 1880s New York City household, striving to make it function as efficiently as his Wall Street office but usually failing. His wife Vinnie is the real head of the household. In keeping with Day's actual family, all the children (all boys) are redheads. The anecdotal story encompasses such details as Clarence's attempts to find a new maid, a romance between his oldest son Clarence Jr. and pretty out-of-towner Mary Skinner, a plan by Clarence Jr. and his younger brother John to make easy money selling patent medicines, Clarence's general contempt for the era's political corruption, the trappings of organized religion, and Vinnie's push to get him baptized so he can enter the kingdom of God.[4]



The movie was adapted by Donald Ogden Stewart from the 1939 play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, based on the 1935 autobiography by Clarence Day, Jr. Day had worked as a stockbroker and was an author and cartoonist for The New Yorker. It was directed by Michael Curtiz.

Due to the Motion Picture Production Code standards of the day, the play's last line (in response to a policeman asking Mr. Day where he is going) "I'm going to be baptized, dammit!" had to be rewritten for the film, with the final word omitted. Mr. Day's frequent outbursts of "Oh, God!" were changed to "Oh, gad!" for the same reason.


Leading film critics in 1947 gave Life with Father high marks, especially with regard to the quality of Warner Bros.' screen adaptation of the popular Broadway play and the quality of the cast's performances. The New York Times in its review directed special attention to William Powell's portrayal of Clarence Day:

A round-robin of praise is immediately in order for all those, and they were many indeed, who assisted in filming Life with Father. All that the fabulous play had to offer in the way of charm, comedy, humor and gentle pathos is beautifully realized in the handsomely Technicolored picture, which opened yesterday at the Warner (formerly the Hollywood) Theatre. William Powell is every inch Father, from his carrot patch dome to the tip of his button-up shoes. Even his voice, always so distinctive, has taken on a new quality, so completely has Mr. Powell managed to submerge his own personality. His Father is not merely a performance; it is character delineation of a high order and he so utterly dominates the picture that even when he is not on hand his presence is still felt.[5]

Film Daily summarized Life with Father as "one of the finer examples of film making in Technicolor" that provides "a delightfully different insight into the human comedy of another day."[6] Variety complimented Irene Dunne's restrained performance as Vinnie as well as the work of the film's supporting players and the production's cinematography and overall direction:

Miss Dunne and Powell have captured to a considerable extent the play's charm...Miss Dunne compares very favorably with the Dorothy Stickney original role, exacting the comedy from the part without overplaying it...

Elizabeth Taylor, as the vis-a-vis for Clarence Day, Jr., is sweetly feminine as the demure visitor to the Day household, while Jimmy Lydon, as young Clarence, is likewise effective as the potential Yale man. Edmund Gwenn, as the minister, and ZaSu Pitts, a constantly visiting relative, head the supporting players who contribute stellar performances.

It's a superlative production all the way, and no less important than any other feature of the pic is the photography. Michael Curtiz' direction is excellent, though unable to achieve, because of the very nature of the pic, anything more than a pedestrian pace.[1]

Box office[edit]

According to Warner Bros., the film earned them $5,057,000 in the U.S. and $1,398,000 in other markets, for a total of $6,455,000 against a production budget of $4,710,000.[7][8]


Life with Father was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (William Powell), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Robert M. Haas, George James Hopkins), Best Cinematography, Color and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.[9]

Copyright status[edit]

Through a clerical error, Life with Father was not renewed for copyright and fell into the public domain in 1975.[10]

Warner Bros. (or United Artists, the former owner of pre-1950 Warner Bros. films,[citation needed]) still owns the theatrical distribution and music rights to the film, but other companies have been able to release non-theatrical, public-domain versions.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "Kahn." (1947). "Life With Father/(Color)", review, Variety (New York, N.Y), August 20, 1947, page 16. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California; retrieved February 25, 2018.
  2. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; August 16, 1947, page 131.
  3. ^ "Life with Father (1947)", Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner, Inc., New York, N.Y.; retrieved February 25, 2018.
  4. ^ Erikson, Hal. Life with Father (1947), AllMovie; retrieved February 25, 2018.
  5. ^ "'Life with Father,' Starring William Powell, Irene Donne, Recaptures Charm That Made the Lindsay-Crouse Play a Hit", movie review, The New York Times archives, August 16, 1947; retrieved February 23, 2018.
  6. ^ "Reviews Of New Films: 'Life With Father'", Film Daily (New York, N.Y.), August 15, 1947, page 6; retrieved February 25, 2018.
  7. ^ Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 28 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  8. ^ Glancy, H. Mark (1992). "MGM Film Grosses, 1924-1948: The Eddie Mannix Ledger," Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, 12, no. 2, 1992, pages 127-143.
  9. ^ "Life with Father". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-08-02. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  10. ^ Hannan, Brian (2016). Coming Back to a Theater Near You: A History of Hollywood Reissues, 1914-2014. McFarland. p. 272. ISBN 9780786498130.

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