Life with Father (1947)

Life with Father
William Powell and Irene Dunne

'Life with Father' is an American domestic comedy film made in 1947, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring William Powell and Irene Dunne with Elizabeth Taylor, Edmund Gwenn and ZaSu Pitts. It is a charmingly told, character-focused, witty movie about a family in late nineteenth century New York.

It received 4 unsuccessful nominations for Academy Awards, for Best Actor (William Powell, getting his third and final Oscar nomination), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Robert M. Haas, George Hopkins), Best Cinematography, Color (Peverell Marley, William V. Skall) and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Max Steiner).

Not one of Hollywood's best known movies but it is a real gem.


The plot line is wonderfully simple and describes episodes in the life of the Day family, particularly the eccentric father, Clarence, played by William Powell, and his much loved wife Vinnie played by Irene Dunne. We observe a series of family events as Vinnie constantly outwits her husband whilst letting him think that he is in charge as they face various problems, mostly caused by their four sons. Vinnie works hard to get her husband baptized and events come to a head when her eldest son, played by James Lydon has a romance with the pretty country girl Mary, played by a young Elizabeth Taylor. There are many fine comic moments and the movie offers an amusing and gently satirical glimpse into Victorian manners and attitudes.


In the 1930's humorist and autobiographer Clarence Day Jr. wrote a series of popular books, "God and My Father", "Life With Father", and "Life With Mother", which became the basis, in 1939, of a Broadway play, which was, in turn, made into the 1947 movie and later, a television series. The Broadway production was extremely popular and with over 3,200 performances holds the record for the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway, finishing its run on July 12, 1947.

In December 1944, two and a half years before the film was actually released, Jack Warner of Warner Bros. paid $500,000 for the screen rights, plus 50% of the profits - a record amount for a film at the time.

The movie was released when the play's run ended and immediately proved popular with the public and critics alike. The performances are uniformly good, particularly from William Powell and Irene Dunne, ably supported by Elizabeth Taylor, the comic actress ZaSu Pitts and the young Martin Milner. The whole is beautifully complemented by the score by Max Steiner.

Years later, Irene Dunne admitted that she found the part of Vinnie to be demeaning. She finally agreed to play the role after considerable persuasion from Michael Curtiz. Rosalind Russell was also considered for the part of Vinnie and Bette Davis, Rosemary DeCamp and Mary Pickford also tested for the role. Fredric March and Ronald Colman were also considered for the role of Clarence.

Disapproval from the censors caused the play's original last line "I'm going to be baptized, dammit" to be changed, omitting the last word.

Main Cast

William Powell ... Clarence Day, Sr.
Irene Dunne ... Vinnie Day
Elizabeth Taylor ... Mary Skinner
Edmund Gwenn ... Rev. Dr. Lloyd
ZaSu Pitts ... Cousin Cora Cartwright
Jimmy Lydon ... Clarence Day, Jr.
Emma Dunn ... Margaret ... the cook
Moroni Olsen ... Dr. Humphries Elisabeth Risdon ... Mrs. Whitehead
Derek Scott ... Harlan Day
Johnny Calkins ... Whitney Day
Martin Milner ... John Day
Heather Wilde ... Annie
Monte Blue ... The Policeman
Mary Field ... Nora
Clara Blandick ... Miss Wiggins


Director ... Michael Curtiz
Producer ... Robert Buckner
Screenwriter ... Donald Ogden Stewart
Based on the play by ... Russel Crouse, Howard Lindsay
From the Original Book by ... Clarence Day
Production Company ... Warner Bros. Pictures
Cinematography ... Sidney Hickox
Format ... Color (Technicolor)
Original Music ... Max Steiner
Release date ... August 14, 1947
Running Time ... 118 minutes

Academy Awards

Four Unsuccessful Nominations
Best Actor ... William Powell
Art Direction/Set Direction (Color) ... Robert M. Haas, George Hopkins
Cinematography (Color) ... Peverell Marley, William V. Skall
Music Score ... Max Steiner