Not surprisingly, Turner Classics celebrates Father's Day tomorrow with end-to-end films about fathers, its centerpiece attraction being Gilbert Cates' fine, indelible 1970 film version of the Robert Anderson play, "I Never Sang for My Father," being screened at noon (est).
"Death ends a life,
but it does not end a relationship,
which struggles on in the survivor's mind
toward some resolution,
which it may never find."
This near-poetic, achingly simple line by Anderson bookends the film, summing up its theme about the stranged relationship between an aging father and his grown son, played in a duet of perfection by Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman. Hackman, conveying strong innocence and innocent strength, has never been more sensitively masculine as a dutiful son being emotionally exploited by the old man, played by Douglas in an intuitive, truly revelatory performance.
I swear but Douglas's work here seems to get better with each viewing.
Each viewing has also made me greater appreciate Cates' direction, which is unobtrusive and clearly, selflessly, in service to his actors, who also include Dorothy Stickney as the mother, Estelle Parsons as the family's banished daughter and, as the two women in Hackman's life, Lovelady Powell and Elizabeth Hubbard.
Cates was one of the producers of the 1968 stage production, which was directed by Alan Schneider and starred Alan Webb, Hal Holbrook, Lillian Gish and Teresa Wright (Mrs. Anderson) in the roles played on film by Douglas, Hackman, Stickney and Parsons. Like Anderson's previous play, "Tea and Sympathy," the material was highly autobiographical - both deal with sensitive sons with rigid fathers.
"I Never Sang for My Father," however, was originally written by Anderson as a screenplay, titled "The Tiger," and although such filmmakers as Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer and Irvin Kershner had an interest in it, the material couldn't get produced. For a while, it was considered by CBS as a teleplay, a vehicle for Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn (as the parents), but that fell through, too, and at Elia Kazan's suggestion, Anderson rewrote his script for the stage.
The play was a success and, when Cates himself decided to direct the film version, Anderson was encouraged to go back to his original film script and reinstate two characters that had been cut from the play - Norma (the one-night stand brilliantly played in the film by Powell) and the son's fiancée, Peggy (Hubbard).
In 1988, "I Never Sang for My Father" was finally filmed as a teleplay. It was faithful to the play, without the characters of Norma and Peggy. The idea was to have Holbrook, who played the son in the play, essay the role of the father this time around, with Daniel J. Travanti as the son. But by the time it was filmed, Harold Gould was in the role of the father.
Also in Turner's tribute to father-child relationships are Otto Preminger's sly, cosmopolitan "Bonjour Tristesse" (1958), being screened at 8 a.m. (est); Mark Rydell's piquent "On Golden Pond" (1981), at 2 p.m.; Frank Capra's endearing "A Hole in the Head" (1959), at 4 p.m.; Vincente Minnelli's shrewdly complicated "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1963), at 8 p.m.; Minnelli's chestnut,"Father of the Bride" ((1950), at 10:15 p.m., and Norman Jewison's expansive "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971), at 3:45 a.m. Monday.
The fathers include David Niven, Henry Fonda, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Ford, Spencer Tracy and Topol, respectively.
Note in Passing: Daryl Chin has reminded me that Yasujiro Ozu's masterwork of self-sacrifice, "There Was a Father"/"Chichi Ariki" (1942) - a lovely tale of a widower-teacher who devotes himself to menial jobs to assure his son of the best education - is being screened by Turned as part of its Father's Day package at 2 a.m. (est) Monday. Years later, the son's offer to care for his father is denied because the father doesn't want his son to harm his career.
Definitely worth taping. "There Was a Father"/"Chichi Ariki" is also available on Japanese DVD, with English subtitles.
(Artwork: Douglas and Hackman turn in extraordinary performances in the indelible "I Never Sang for My Father" from Robert Anderson's play; the poster art for "Bonjour Tristesse" and the DVD dustjacket for "There Was a Father"/"Chichi Ariki.")