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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
William Powell was such a great actor that to attempt to do one of his
roles as well was highly difficult. His Nick Charles is light years
more interesting (in a handful of movies) than the entire television
series with Peter Lawford playing the same role. Occasionally an actor
could duplicate his part as well as he - his doomed murderer lover in
ONE WAY PASSAGE was done as well by George Brent in 'TIL WE MEET AGAIN.
But Brent was an exception to this. Another example is the "snitch"
character in BEAU GESTE. Powell's character in the 1926 silent film was
really a total knave (he was a sneak thief, a coward, and a snitch) but
J. Carroll Naish's reprise of the same character (but with a different
name) in the 1939 sound version was equally memorable (mostly due to
Naish's hyena-like laughter).
In 1947 Powell had one of his finest performances as Clarence Day Sr. in Michael Curtiz's LIFE WITH FATHER. Pompous and domineering and no nonsense, he is the perfect representation of the high Victorian "Pater Familias" of 1885. His word is the law of the house (theoretically), and (as he says with unconscious self-mockery) his is "the character" of his home. But he never realizes that, without trying to, his wife Vinnie (Irene Dunne) constantly undercuts his authority and control on household spending by confusing his questions on accounts by her logical illogic (remember the exchange of the pug-dog for the "free suit" at the department store?).
Powell had only another decade of films left to him, and he never showed interest in television. He had nothing to prove with the public, and would leave the acting scene on a high note as "Doc" in MR. ROBERTS. But he may have been curious about the slight success (from 1953 to 1955) of a television version of LIFE WITH FATHER starring (for it's first two seasons) a fine character actor Leon Ames.
Ames had been in movies since the 1930s (his first notable role as "C. Auguste Dupin" in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE with Bela Lugosi - but under his real name of "Leon Waycoff"). Since then, while never achieving leading man status like Powell, he was in some juicy supporting roles, such as the clever District Attorney in the 1946 THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, and as the head of the family (who learns a lesson in what is important from watching his crying youngest daughter) in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. Capable of good characters (the angel in YOLANDA AND THE THIEF) and villains (twice against Powell in "THE THIN MAN" Series) Ames was a good choice to play Mr. Day.
I was too young to see episodes of television's LIFE WITH FATHER in the period it was on the air - but in the 1960s episodes reappeared on some of the "lesser channels" in the New York Metropolitan area such as channel 9 and channel 11. It was a fairly interesting series, with attempts to show the Day family in their time period. Given the half hour episodes, more time could be spent on different areas of the culture, social mores, and even politics of the time.
For example, Ames played Mr. Day like Powell did, being very outspoken and opinionated. In one episode he dislikes door to door salesman, and gets so upset at the junk his family buys (in this case a defective egg "sheller" which destroys an egg when it's suppose to remove the shell) that he writes a letter to the New York Times protesting door to door salesmen. The joke of the episode's plot is that Day finds his letter categorized as an attack on "free enterprise". Since he is a stock broker his fellows on Wall Street are amazed at his views on the American economy (then in the heyday of "laissez faire").
Ames, abetted by Lurleen Tuttle as Vinnie, did nicely as Mr. Day, but the writing of the episodes faltered. They tended to build up to his discomforting at the end of each one. Yet my memories of the best moments of the show are surprisingly warm. I don't recall the third season (when Ames left the show and the role), and I wonder if any of those were ever re-aired. But when he was on he kept the show lively, and certainly did not fail to maintain the high standards that Powell set in the film version of six years earlier.
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