I Never Sang For My Father (1970)

GILBERT CATES

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.5.  USA, 1970.  Janel Productions, Columbia Pictures Corporation.  Screenplay by , based on his play.  Cinematography by , .  Produced by Gilbert Cates.  Music by , .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1970.  Golden Globe Awards 1970.  

Gene Hackman plays a New York teacher and writer who has never quite squared off his feelings for his tough, proud father (Melvyn Douglas) but is now forced to deal with him directly in light of his parents’ increasing age.  Hackman is looking forward to moving on after the death of his wife, relocating to California with his beautiful gynecologist fiancee, which his mother encourages but his father insists would kill her.  When the situation changes and Hackman is left to deal with deciding what to do with dear old dad, it leads to confrontations both gruff and ugly as he does his best to not hold an estranged childhood against a now repetitive and confused old man.  Robert Anderson’s respectable drama doesn’t exactly re-write the book on family dynamics, the whole thing is a bit too conservative to be groundbreaking, but it is also classy and satisfying, not to mention at times very moving, thanks to the cast and the good dialogue.  Douglas spent most of his career as the supporting actor who always stole the show, here getting to display prowess as a leading man that he does more than exceptionally well, while Hackman, who would later be known for fiery, explosive characters, does beautiful work as the gentle soul who would rather make peace than follow his heart.  Estelle Parsons makes a terrific appearance as the daughter who brings her own past family drama into the picture, in a film that hasn’t aged too badly.  Its conclusion does not offer simple solutions for complex problems, showing great respect for conflicts that cannot be solved.

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