The best thing about the 1970 film “I Never Sang for My Father” is a knockout performance by the veteran actor Melvyn Douglas.
Douglas plays Tom Garrison (think garrison, as in military), a bombastic, charming, irascible retired businessman and alpha male, 1970-vintage. Gene Hackman, early in his career here, plays Tom’s young adult son, a fiction writer and teacher, visiting his parents in the New York City area, from his home on the West Coast.
As is his custom, Hackman turns in an expert, understated performance.
The movie is about family, estrangement, the search for love, and death.
And it doesn’t entirely work. Don’t get me wrong: it’s an important film of its era, nominated for three Academy Awards; a trenchant drama well- acted, well-directed and well-photographed, and I recommend it. But the central relationship, the central troubled relationship, between Tom, the father, and Gene, the son, is missing something on-screen.
At one point, Gene says that he hates his father. But you know what? Up until that point, I didn’t feel that hatred, and I should have.
Show, don’t tell.
Nevertheless, it’s a damn good movie, that fans of good drama will particularly enjoy.
It’s based on a 1968 Broadway play of the same name written by the same man who wrote the screenplay for the film, Robert Anderson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay.
And there may be moments in the film where the dialogue gets a little talk-y, and it feels like you’re watching a play.
Nevertheless, it’s a damn good movie.
A wonderful performance, in a rather small role, was given by the veteran actress Dorothy Stickney, who played Margaret Garrison, Tom’s elderly wife and Gene’s mother. Stickney, whose long career on stage and screen included a role in the original Broadway production of “Pippin,” turns in an understated, naturalistic performance sure to pull at your heartstrings.
In addition to the Oscar nomination for screenplay, the film was also nominated for Best Performance by a Leading Actor (Douglas), and Best Performance by a Supporting Actor (Hackman).
I watched “I Never Sang for My Father” recently on YouTube, for about $4.