Tuesday, March 05, 2013

I Never Sang for My Father (1970)

I Never Sang for My Father
Directed by Gilbert Cates
Starring: Gene Hackman, Melvyn Douglas, Estelle Parsons
Grade: B –

If Gene Hackman were a less capable actor, his character in “I Never Sang For My Father” might become an unbearable sulk. As a dutiful son to all-around curmudgeon Melvyn Douglas he seems resolved to be unhappy throughout the film, unable to see any compromise between committing to a miserable life at home in the East, and high-tailing it to the West Coast with his girlfriend and her two kids. Essentially one long struggle to rationalise feelings for a stately, arctic patriarch, ‘Father’ has an innate personalisation which suggests an autobiographical element to Robert Anderson’s script (adapted from his own stage play), but does tire from being so concerned with a singular overwrought issue. Hackman’s realisation of the character helps to overcome the stodge; he approaches invisible bonds of history with resignation rather than contempt, and in the film’s final, wrenching scene between father and son, he retains a level of emotional openness and reassurance when it feels like his character has nothing left to do but flail around the become the victim. This is an example of how an edgy script petrified by the idea of mortality can be tempered by wise casting decisions.

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