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This is one film that has stayed with me since I first saw it; in
spring, 1971; in a time before I had to shave everyday. The movie
theater in which I saw it has long-since been turned into a
touring-company playhouse...and the name of my date has long-since
slipped my mind. Not really...but my wife might read this.
A friend of mine who is a physician told me that no one ages gracefully. As much as I value his friendship and judgment, Melvyn Douglas must be held as an exception to that dictum. Though his role here is little different from that of Paul Newman's father in "Hud," he plays it magnificently. One can scarcely imagine him as a romantic leading man, although he was...and opposite Greta Garbo, at that. His scene with Gene Hackman at the funeral home is too real and too devastating to pass off as "schmaltz." Gene Hackman has never given a bad performance, and his role here, as the dutiful, though semi-distant son, is (arguably) one of his best. He realizes he must live his own life...though, being a widower himself, he knows on an adult level what his father--suddenly all-too-human and frail--is suffering. He must choose between fealty to the man who gave him life and the woman who now gives his life meaning and passion. The bedroom scene, in which he discusses his doubts with her, is very real. Not every middle-aged adult has faced such choices.
I saw this film when I was 17 and have not seen it since. But as I grow older its meaning and significance grows ever-increasingly important. We, all of us, want to gain the approval of our father. Yet, our passions, those things that give meaning to our life, might not be what our father values...and so we share them with others and not with the one whose approval, love, and affirmation we most desire and most need.
Is it schmaltzy, as some have said?....Is life?
"I Never Sang for My Father" has to be one of the saddest films ever
made. Relations between parents and grown up children are examined in
this tight drama that rings true from beginning to end. We can relate
to how the dynamics in a family change as parents get older and
children are now involved in problems of their own with their families.
This is basically about the special relationship between a father and a son. Tom Garrison, the father, is in his eighties. His son Gene has lost his wife and is now seeing a woman doctor in California. When Margaret, the mother, suffers a heart attack and dies, Tom and Gene come to a confrontation because the father wants to keep a grip on his son to help him during that adjustment period. Gene, who has always been a good son, has to make a decision that will put him at odds with his father.
The idea of children taking care of their parents during their old age is questioned here. On the one hand, Tom, the father, is a self made man who struggled hard for all he achieved in life. Gene, the son, is in the eyes of the father, a failure, because of his passive nature. Tom has counted on relying on Gene for those late years and because of his intransigent nature, he is not willing to compromise in the solution the son has for him.
The film version of Robert Anderson's play, and directed by Gilbert Cates, gathered a stellar cast to bring the family alive. Melvyn Douglas, in one of his best screen appearances, makes Tom Garrison come alive. Mr. Douglas' take on his character shows a man that while giving an appearance of being strong, underneath, shows his vulnerability. Gene Hackman, who plays the son, is a perfect match for Melvyn Douglas. Their scenes together show a raw energy between a domineering father and a son that has gone along to please him. Estelle Parsons is seen as Alice, the estranged daughter and Dorothy Stickney who plays Margaret, the mother.
I find myself recommending this movie to people all the time. It is
such a clear picture of the challenges faced by anyone trying to help
an aging parent.
But there is another aspect to it that I love. It is one of the few serious films I've seen that shows the effect of a character being viewed as the salt of the earth, heroic and charming by outsiders, but who is nasty, judgmental and selfish with his own family. Whatever has happened due to Douglas' character aging and beginning to lose his mental faculties, you know that this particular pain has been part of his children's lives forever.
Such a relationship is always difficult -- it is especially so with an older relative who has truly done heroic things, and who is respected and loved even by those he abuses. It puts everyone who knows his darker side in a bizarre and awkward position, seeming like villains for ever saying a word against a much-admired person.
This movie captures the agony and poignancy of such a relationship perfectly, and shows the various levels of maturity with which one's family can choose to respond. The character's daughter needs to stay away, his son takes it with a grain of salt, as evidenced by his wry smile and mild answer when his fiancée finds his father "charming." This is a must-see film, for more reasons than I can list here.
I saw this movie when it first came out and I remember it vividly from over thirty years later. I recently saw it again, expecting the passage of time to have dimmed my fondness for it somewhat. It was just as wonderful as I remembered it, but I understood things at the age of 39 that I did not at ten. Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman deservedly got Oscar nominations for their splendid work here. There is also a marvelous script, also nominated for an Oscar. I expect I will remember the last line until I die. Most Highly Recommended
I can count on this movie to move me, to bring up feelings for me EVERY TIME I see it. Robert Anderson, the writer, nailed it, caught the essence of the difficulty children have relating to their fathers. Melvyn Douglas is outstanding as the father who, when his son (Gene Hackman) comes to visit falls asleep in front of the TV watching inane Westerns and then says to his son, "Gene, Gene are you leaving so soon? We hardly get to spend any time with you..." And the daughter says: "I am grateful to him (her father) because he taught me a very important lesson: This world is cold and lonely and uncaring and if you can't get the love and attention you need from your own father, who can you get it from? Yes, I am grateful to him..." This is powerful stuff. Great writing and acting except for the woman who plays Hackman's future bride. Bad casting there. The rest is superb. If you want to be moved (and some movies SHOULD move you -- that's another reason they're called 'movies,' right?!!), this is it.
Gene Hackman plays a former marine who's wife had died not too long ago for cancer. His parents live close by and he visits every so often. Hackman has never really gotten along with his dad, played by Melvyn Douglas, but gets along better with his mother. His mother dies and his sister, played by Estelle Parsons, comes home and we find out that Douglas had banished her several years earlier and she's never come back since. Hackman and Parsons have to decide what to do with dad, which is either hiring a full time nurse or moving him into a nursing home or letting him move in with one of them. Both Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas were nominated for best actor but lost out to George C. Scott for Patton. Several people have called this movie very depressing but i don't think it is, but just like what Roger Ebert said, a good movie is never depressing, only bad movies are.
as are the performances of Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas, who portray
an alienated father and son, brought together after the death of
Hackman's wife, and as his father is becoming in need of more medical
assistance and attention.
Anyone who has taken care of an elderly parent may be heartbroken by the performances in this film, as I was. Melvyn Douglas is at once critical, angry and resentful of his son, yet still hopes for his love, in the end. Gene Hackman is torn, whether to sacrifice his life, and ultimately feel better, having done the "right thing" or to marry his new fiancée.
Estelle Parsons is always affecting, as she advises Hackman to "live his own life- why bother..." Therein lies the dilemma; people have to sort through issues like this everyday- there are no concrete answers. Highly recommended. 9/10
I saw this film as a child on late night TV in the 70's and never
really grasped it's truthful portrayal of the classic dysfunctional
family. I didn't realize at the time just how dysfunctional my family
was and how my father's controlling behavior and self centered
personality shaped our family dynamics and still does. The close,
loving adult relationship I always wanted with my father never happened
because of his overbearing personality and utter disinterest in his
children's adult lives. The children of such parents are often made to
feel that it's either their fault or at least their responsibility to
fix it. I saw the film again today on TCM and it perfectly captured the
devastating long term effects from growing up in such a household.
There's not a wasted word in the script. Tom doesn't give a wit about
Gene. He doesn't even know him or care to. It's all about Tom. Boy, do
I know what that feels like. I wished I had written Gene Hackman's
dialog down so I could use it during my next frustrating visit with the
This film should be required viewing for any adult son (or daughter) who is guilt-ed on a regular basis and told that everything their parents ever did for them as children has strings attached.
I'm an actor and I hope I get the chance to play Gene Garrison some day...with my father in the audience. Who am I kidding? He still wouldn't get it.
This is the kind of movie that really makes you think about the people
you love. It also makes you think about the fact that time is
and thorough communication about the things we feel should hold the
priority over anything else.
Excellent script and the actors are brilliant. Everyone should see this movie!
This '70 drama is very powerful with a towering performance by Melvyn
Douglas and an authentic and insightful one by Gene Hackman (right
before FRENCH CONNECTION) as his son. Hackman's 2nd nom. after BONNIE
AND CLYDE and I wish he'd made more human dramas like this one in the
70's and 80's instead of junk like SUPERMAN, ZANDY'S BRIDE, MARCH OR
DIE. Check him out in CISCO PIKE. Estelle Parsons who played Hackman's
wife in B&C plays his sister in this and is glad she escaped the
clutches of her old man. Fine acting and well-directed.
A 7 out of 10. Best performance = Melvyn Douglas (also nominated for Oscar). Nerves on edge and tragedy of aging beautifully told.
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