In the spring of 1972, I was doing my senior high English round of student teaching and was watching my cooperating teacher Australian (where he lives now) Bill Corcoran teach an English 33 class (gr. 12 diploma). He was using a Literary Cavalcade magazine, an old American periodical available to senior highs that subscribed. In the issue was Robert Anderson’s excellent generation-gap play about aging, I Never Sang for My Father. Later that summer, I would get a chance to see a screening of the memorable 1969 film at SUB theatre starring Melvyn Douglas as the difficult father and Gene Hackman as the restless son. It was very impressive and virtually followed the script that had been used in the classroom.
Flash ahead to last evening, 2020, and a chance to watch it again on a Columbia DVD in brilliant color. Spoilers: All the old lines and famous scenes came back including the showdown between father and son and daughter who married a Jew (played by an honest, hardened Estelle Parsons) after the nice, patient, supportive mother (motherly played by Dorothy Stickney) dies suddenly, the scene in which Gene the son visits depressing old folks homes imagining his father there, and the powerful concluding scene in which Gene and Tom the father have their final falling-out leading Gene to move to California.
Not all aging parents and adult kids get along and some parents can make the process more difficult even when the child wants to be loving and supportive, which is the case here. Douglas plays an effective ‘castrating’ father, who has never respected or loved his son and his choice of spouses, but who, nonetheless, expects absolute submission and loyalty in his dotage. (He was nominated for Best Actor in 1970 while Hackman was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.) The latter is effective in being driven crazy by his father even as he makes the most generous offers of his life to the cantankerous old man. For his own part, Douglas’s character is likewise complicated ranging from self-indulgence to kidding to extreme anger and bitterness. Both actors showcase a wide array of realistic emotions. Both could easily have won Oscars.
This remains hands-down the best generation gap movie and play I have ever seen. Highly recommended for any adult children cast in similar circumstances. I Never Sang for My Father is a tough, realistic film full of many conflicts, much drama, and impossible-to-solve situations. Two thumbs way up.