It is happening again. Our second (and last!) child is getting married and part of my mother of the groom preparation involves watching my favorite wedding movie of all time: the 1950 version of FATHER OF THE BRIDE.
I love this movie. I can it watch any time, anywhere. I am not alone – it is considered a beloved classic by many film buffs. It was directed by the great Vincente Minnelli and stars the always brilliant Spencer Tracy and the breathtakingly young Elizabeth Taylor.
I don’t know how in all the times I’ve seen this movie I didn’t think about the fact that Spencer Tracy’s character, Stanley T. Banks, is an attorney. His profession is not important in the film except to establish him as someone who is wealthy enough at the end of the day to pay for the every growing price tag for his daughter’s wedding. But I think that the lesson of that professional choice for a character bears fruit for attorneys who watch it.
When the film was made, the studio system was still in place. Spencer Tracy’s deal was with MGM. He was obligated to make the films that they wanted him to make for the most part. Father Of The Bride was one of those obligations. In fact, the lore is that he loathed the script, the making of the film, everything about it. He thought it was ridiculous, and that his whole career was going down the drain and that he would never be taken seriously as an actor again. A consummate professional, he turned in a spotless performance, even while thinking that it was his acting death knell. Instead, it turned out to be the film and the character for which he is best known and best remembered and best loved.
Sometimes when I work with the real life Stanley T. Banks of the world they feel just that way about the case. More than one time a panicked attorney will say to me, “The reason you are here is so that when this whole thing goes to hell in a hand basket no one can turn around and sue me for not pulling out all the stops.” And, in spite of fear, terror, and the risk that their futures are on the line, they pull themselves together and do their consummate professional best where it counts – in the courtroom. And I am thrilled each and every time. Just as I am when I watch Spencer Tracy’s performance in this film.
Whether watching it for the first or millionth time there is one scene that attorneys should watch with care. It takes place in the kitchen in the middle of the night. Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor find themselves together, both victims of jittery wedding nightmares. But Tracy puts his terror aside easily and instinctively and comforts his daughter. It is a scene I find played out in preparation rooms all over the country and for all time between attorneys and their clients. When watch this scene, know that I am giving you a standing ovation every time you replicate it in your own practice.
TIP: Never let them see you sweat.