I’m not sure which review I mentioned it in, but I haven’t discovered a film by Vincente Minnielli that I’ve liked…until today. Father’s Little Dividend is the sequel to the 1950 film Father of the Bride. I saw the original Father of the Bride around the time of Elizabeth Taylor‘s passing (she plays the “Bride” of the title) and enjoyed it. The sequel, directed by Vincente Minnielli is a darling film that continues to show off the deadpan, and hilarious wit of Spencer Tracy.
Stanley Banks (Tracy) has recovered from the hilarity (and inner trauma) of his daughter Kay’s (Elizabeth Taylor) marriage. When Kay announces she’s going to have a baby, Stanley handles it about as well as her marriage…which isn’t good. As Kay struggles between two sets of warring in-laws, including her husbands wealthy parents, Stanley and his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) have differing views on what this grandchild means to them.
To start, those who have seen the remakes with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton, these two sets of films are great examples of what a change in tone can do to a film. I love the Martin films, they’re filled with slapstick and laughs. The difference is in the delivery of Martin’s character (George Banks) and Tracy’s (Stanley Banks). Both films have very different plots, and Father’s Little Dividend is so different from Father of the Bride 2 they don’t even share the same title! FLD focuses on Kay announcing her pregnancy, being pregnant, having the baby, and Stanley trying to bond with the grandchild, all in 90 minutes! The remade sequel has the grandparents becoming parents and George going through a midlife crisis with that film ending as the baby is born.
Tracy’s depiction of the put-upon father is that of an older man. He’s deadpan, and has no problem insulting Kay and her husband Buckley (Don Taylor) even as he insults them. A scene where he tries to reassure Kay about motherhood by telling her a story about her birth sums this up perfectly. Stanley just doesn’t know how to let someone down easily to the point that he calls Kay that her birth made him feel “trapped by twenty inches of screaming humanity.” Tracy’s always played the father as a man who could give you a pep talk but only to get rid of you (his scenes in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World are a highlight in this). Martin’s turn as George Banks in the sequel was a bit odd because he looked far too young and played George as more slapsticky, a joking guy who seemed to be playing a father. It’s still funny but it’s not as endearing as Tracy’s portrayal.
The film’s script utilizes Tracy’s ability to make anything sound hilarious because of his delivery. There’s still the inner monologue of Tracy telling the audience the story as in the original and remakes. Here you’re introduced to him no different from the first film, only now “I started to look at my son-in-law with a kind eye.” There’s nothing in this film that Tracy doesn’t say without a dour expression and that’s half the fun. I mean he refers to his upcoming grandchild as “someone else’s kid.” He doesn’t feel excited or anything for his daughter and at a certain point (especially towards the end) you start to feel like maybe he’s just a jerk but the movie quickly rectifies that. Tracy is a father who doesn’t feel the need to coddle his daughter, and I couldn’t blame him. When Ellie wants to move Kay and Buckley into the house Stanley says no. He doesn’t feel bad that his daughter and son-in-law don’t have the room, “they should have thought of that before having a baby.”
I thought that too in the beginning of the film. I mean Kay and Buckley were handed almost everything in the first film and Herbert Dunstan (Moroni Olsen) even tells them he’s building a freaking wing on his house for them! Sure they refuse him but seriously! Stanley doesn’t feel bad and neither did I. Sure it’s the 1950s and the sense of community amongst family was still prevalent (this was the era of Leave It To Beaver and Ozzie & Harriet), but it is a harsh dose of reality coming from a film whose story revolves around a baby being born and the parents still sleep in separate beds!
The movie progresses with the various grandparents having their own designs on the grandchild. Both the Dustan’s, including the wife Doris played by
Glinda the Witch of the North Billie Burke, find an heir to carry on the family name while Ellie is just happy to have a baby in her arms. Joan Bennett is pretty bland in this film, and if memory serves she wasn’t much of a presence in the original. She’s not a bad actress, she’s just easily overshadowed by Tracy and Taylor. The father/daughter duo have phenomenal chemistry and these films are all about father/daughter bonding. Speaking of, Taylor continues to be breathtakingly beautiful in this film (as she was in the first). It’s funny to watch her be eight months pregnant and look like she’s just had a big lunch but she’s Elizabeth Taylor for crying out loud! You feel for her as the grandparents are prepared to divide and conquer for her child. A scene where the characters are all arguing over baby names is focused on Kay, complete with screechy, rapid music to heighten her tension. The parents all try to take control but Kay’s the one actually having the kid.
It is pretty hysterical though watching how far these grown adults will go for the first grandchild. Herbert tells Stanley he’s already got the baby enrolled in Harvard “class of 1973!” Stanley, always focused on himself, doesn’t even find this odd but instead starts arguing with Herbert about which school is better: Harvard or Dartmouth.
Father’s Little Dividend is a solid comedy with its focus on Spencer Tracy’s Stanley Banks. Even typical conventions of the genre are switched in director Vincente Minnielli’s telling to emphasize Stanley first. A great scene shows Buckley and Kay reconciling after a fight, kissing and all as Stanley tries to squeeze past them to take Kay’s luggage back to the car. As if you don’t need enough reason to watch this here’s a favorite line of mine. Kay has just left Buckley in the middle of the night. Stanley is asking Buckley what Kay took, Buckley says a toothbrush. Stanley: “Don’t worry. If she took a toothbrush she’s not headed to the river.” Again, reassurance mixed with an insult.
Father’s Little Dividend has fallen into the public domain and is easily watchable via the Internet Archive or here:
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.