ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melanie Novak writes about the Golden Age of Hollywood, infusing her weekly movie reviews with history, gossip, and the glamour of the studio era. You can read her reviews at www.melanienovak.com and follow her on Instagram @novak_melanie.
You may not be familiar with Father’s Little Dividend, but you certainly know the original. In fact, you can tell a lot about a person by asking them who plays the Father of the Bride. If you say Steve Martin, you’re likely under fifty. If you say Spencer Tracy, you’re either a film buff or have grandchildren—make it great-grandchildren—of your own.
(And if you say Leon Ames, who played Stanley on the 1961-1962 television series, my hat’s off to you. That’s the deepest of deep cuts, my friend.)
A brief recap on the original: In 1950, Spencer Tracy plays Stanley Banks, a middle age father who finds out his young and only daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) is getting married and proceeds to lose his mind in the planning of (and paying for!) her wedding.
In Father’s Little Dividend, MGM brings back the entire cast for a second round of laughs at poor Stanley Banks’ expense when Kay and husband Buckley announce she’s expecting a baby.
After the announcement, everyone is hugging and offering congratulations to the young couple. Everyone except for Stanley, who’s too busy glowering at the proud papa-to-be.
“First he steals my daughter,” Stanley fumes in audience narration, “now he makes a grandpa out of me.”
The prospect of becoming a “grandpa” sends Stanley into a full blown midlife crisis. In my favorite scene, he spends the day at the gym regaining his youthful vitality and ends up throwing out his back the next morning.
Father’s Little Dividend does an excellent job walking the sequel tightrope—holding onto what people loved about the original without serving them reheated leftovers.
It keeps Stanley’s curmudgeonly nature and under-his-breath barbs—he calls the baby shower “highway robbery not punishable by law.” It also maintains the roll-her-eyes tolerance of his wife Ellie, the mutual adoration between Stanley and Kay, and the bottom line truth that for all his grumbling, Stanley is ultimately a marshmallow who wants only to make his wife and daughter happy.
But Dividend also widens the circle to include more time with Kay’s in-laws, who are in a fight to the death with Ellie for the baby’s affection. Both sets of in-laws endlessly interfere in Kay and Buckley’s life—suggesting Kay move in with them, decorating her nursey, and going behind her back to speak with her doctor about his questionable “modern” methods.
And after the baby is born, the you-better-take-this advice never ends.
All but Stanley, of course, who wants nothing to do with any of it. And for a daughter overwhelmed with competing opinions, “no comment” is the sweetest sound of all.
And as to the baby that Stanley wants nothing to do with?
He comes around. Just as we all knew he would.
Dividend is both funny and poignant. But it also brings out something that feels fresh even today—very few films put a man’s feelings about becoming a grandfather at center stage.
Directed by Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis), and co-starring Joan Bennett as Ellie Banks, this holiday season you can’t go wrong with a double helping of the original Banks family in Father of the Bride (1950) and Father’s Little Dividend (1951).