Like the 1991 version starring Steve Martin, the Spencer Tracy original takes a light-comic, wistful look at the travails and embarrassments of the guy whose job it is to pay the bills for the ceremony marking the fact that he’s no longer the most important man in his daughter’s life. In Tracy’s hands, the character more poignant and less spastic (though he has some nice bits of comic business, like spraying Coca-Cola all over himself during a pre-wedding party). Watching the movie with modern, jaded eyes, it’s hard to imagine that any wedding where Elizabeth Taylor is the bride will end well (in real life, she threw the first of her eight weddings just weeks before the film opened), though on screen, she’s perfectly lovely and radiant, and nothing that happens is really her fault.
The wedding simply takes on a life of its own and spirals out of control. The night before, Tracy has a nightmare of just how wrong things can go, but the actual wedding goes out of control in ways he didn’t expect. Director Vincente Minnelli’s masterful opening sequence, tracking through the family’s trashed home until it comes upon the depleted Tracy slumped in a chair, tells the whole story.
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