Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Players are responsible for force of Douglas film

Cleveland Press January 28, 1971

"I Never Sang For My Father" is playing at the Beachcliff and Vogue. Drama; adults, older teens. In the cast are Melvyn Douglas, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons and Dorothy Stickney. Running time: 90 minutes.

"I Never Sang For My Father" is an emotion filled drama, a realistic and often painful look at the relationship of a middle aged son and his elderly father.

But the power of the movie comes less from the d r a m a itself than from the players.

As the independent feeling but actually dependent father Melvyn Douglas couldn't possibly be better. Even playwright Robert Anderson's carefully constructed lines sound utterly true as Douglas says them.

Douglas gives a total performance; one that is as much in the cut of his shoulders, the look in his eyes and the flexible lines of his face as it is in the words he speaks with so much authority and intelligence.

Gene Hackman, who plays the 40-year-old widower son, has a built-in look of anguish but there is more than this to his performance.

There is the turned-on smile you know isn't real, the averted glance, the repressed anger. the frustration of expressing a love he wants to feel but cannot.

There are sidelights to the main drama between father and son. As with the main characters, smaller roles are beautifully filled.

Dorothy Stickney makes the most of her small role as the mother. Estelle Parsons has her best role in several years as the daughter banished by Douglas years earlier for marrying a Jew.

The situation in the movie involves Hackman's decision to move to California where he plans to marry a divorcee, a doctor with several children. Before he can even mention his plans his father warns him that leaving "would kill your mother."

His mother really wants him to go and the father's remark, an attempt to disclaim any involvement with his son, is typical of the arm's-length relationship of the two.

The mother has a stroke and after her death the son and daughter try to convince their father that an 80-year-old man should have a housekeeper. It's a suggestion that he rejects, assuming that his son will remain.

During a moment when he is feeling closer to his father than he ever has, Hackman breaks the news and offers to take his father with him.

Douglas demands that his son remain, even if it means his not remarrying. There is an angry exchange and Hackman walks out leaving the relationship between father and son never to be fulfilled.

Anderson's drama, adapted from his own stage play, veers perilously close to soap opera. However, his situations are genuine and his players get the most out of them.

Direction by Gilbert Cates is little help. He overuses tricky camera angles and too often tends to cut from one character to another during a conversation.

"I Never Sang For My Father" is real where "Love Story" is fantasy but the former, while painful, will not evoke the tears of the latter -- at least not from so many. Perhaps it is too real. Maybe Douglas is too genuine as a tiresome old man. But it is a stunning performance and along with the others overcomes what might otherwise have been a dreary movie.