Saturday, July 6, 2013

I Never Sang for My Father

I Never Sang for My Father (Gilbert Cates, 1970) Family drama about older kids (Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons) struggling with what to do with their elderly parents (Melvyn Douglas, Dorothy Stickney) and the way emotional buttresses are formed between generations to prevent "in-home care" for the elderly. 

It's a simple equation: kids want their lives, and parents want their lives back.

Gene Garrison (Hackman) is an author/college professor who's the chief care-taker/"baby-sitter" for his elderly parents, who have just returned to upstate New York from their winter home in Florida.  Mom's frail, as is dad (Douglas), but he won't admit it.

Gilbert Cates produced the play on Broadway (where it starred Hal Holbrook, Alan Webb, Teresa Wright and Lillian Gish), and directed it (such as he did) for film.  It's not great work, hand-held, close-up stuff that basically gets out of the way of the actors, with a bit too much transitory busy-ness—there's a lot of walking out of rooms as if that's going to stop a conversation, but it doesn't.  Cates went on to a career of directing mostly TV movies, but became most famous for producing the annual Oscar telecasts.

One hesitates to come down too hard on I Never Sang... because the issues are familiar if limited to the personalities involved and the selfish motivations of such, but the acting, especially by Douglas, Hackman and Parsons is note-perfect and feels real.

It's just that the film is dully presented, and looks like an after-school special for those going through a mid-life crisis, and it ends, never resolving the issues or presenting any ideas or insights.  To do that would involve compromise and none of the characters are willing to, while the movie itself does so at every stage.

Gene Hackman has retired from films and acting, but it would be nice if he would grace audiences with his take on the Douglas role, just to see what he would do with it.

It is interesting to note that the "Death ends a life" monologue from the play/film is considered one of the most "overdone audition monologues" in theater.

No comments: