My favorite Harry Potter character: Mad-Eye Moody. My favorite super hero: Batman. Favorite... duck? Uncle Scrooge! Pretty much across the entire board, my favorite character is always the grouchy yet lovable individual. I didn’t used to have an explanation for why this was always the case. But then it occurred to me… They all remind me of my father! A slightly intimidating guy with a sometimes surly disposition, but at his core... a lovable heart of gold.
Besides strong values, integrity, and an understanding of the Grouchy Smurfs of the world, one of the things my old man instilled in me is an admiration for “old” movies. You know, the classics! Therefore, this edition of the Silly Nate Film Club is dedicated to you, Dad! From 1947, it’s director Michael Curtiz’s comedy, Life With Father.
This film’s main character falls right in there with that group of beloved protagonists that remind me of my own father. Set in the 1890’s, William Powell plays Clarence Day, a headstrong banker, husband, and father of four boys, who insists on having a certain order in every aspect of his life, especially in his own household. Unfortunately for Mr. Day, his sense of order at home seldom exists the way he’d prefer and thus, hilarity ensues! It’s a device that’s proven funny time and time again: an individual clinging to the belief that they are in control of the situation when, in fact, the opposite is the case.
And then there’s Mrs. Day, played brilliantly by Irene Dunn. If anyone were in control of the Day household, I’d say it was she. Not that control is something her character really desires. I think what helps Life With Father stand the test of time is the stark contrast between these two characters. It’s never NOT enjoyable! Mrs. Day’s submissive gentility yet firm sensibility is constantly up against Mr. Day’s hardheaded stubbornness. Their different ways of achieving the same goals is a subtle power struggle, of sorts, that makes for some good comedy! Underneath it all, however, the two share a strong love and admiration for one another that Powell and Dunn play quite convincingly on screen. It’s not as catchy of a title, but I almost feel the film should be called Life With Mother and Father as it’s the stunning balance of the two characters that make this film the masterpiece that it is.
Life With Father is based on the autobiography of Clarence Day, Jr., the eldest of the four boys. I, myself, am the eldest of four boys so maybe that’s one of the reasons this film hits so close to home. My own father definitely expresses a lot more humility than Mr. Day, but the resemblances are still there. I always did, and still do to an extent, look up to my dad as an unshakable giant not unlike William Powell in Life With Father and have always strived to do right by him the way the Day boys do with their dad. One scene I enjoy is just a small moment towards the end of the film, when Mr. Day is sitting down with all four of his sons… just joking around. By this time, we’ve seen Mr. Day blow his top several times, yet his sons are never too intimidated to sit with their old man and enjoy his company. Like their mother, they understand their father and the love he has for them, and they don’t hesitate to return the affection. I think that’s what it is that I find so lovable about this type of character: the way the scales tip from hardheaded to softhearted.
Not long ago, I ran across a little quote from writer Thomas Merton. It might be kind of deep for a blog filled with cartoon penguins, but here it is:
"The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them"
- Thomas MertonToo often we write people off for their so-called faults rather than focus on the good in them. We all have our imperfections and the sooner we try to relate to the Clarence Days that are out there rather than shun them for being different, then the sooner the world will be a better place. I don’t know if that’s the message Life With Father is trying to convey, but it’s what I get out of it, nevertheless.
Oh! And on a side note: the world would also be a better place if we had more movie posters like the one above!
You gotta love the classics!