I’m not really spoiling more than the film’s original tagline, though: “He Had Two Wives And Led Two Lives… He’s The Best Dad Two Families Ever Had – At The Same Time!”
A warm, fluffy, Cinemascope family comedy about adultery and bigamy? Well, that was the genius of the studio system: the ability to take on complicated social issues in a way that directly addressed them without ever shattering anyone’s innocence or arguing wrong was right.
The brilliant Clifton Webb is Horace Pennypacker, a well-to-do turn of the century businessman living a double life. Splitting his time evenly between two different offices in two Pennsylvania cities, Horace has fathered a total of 17 children with two different wives. Through a series of events involving the rushed wedding of a daughter, the truth comes out with none of the expected consequences.
Once exposed, Horance at first attempts to remain blasé using his liberal ideas about American mores and God to excuse his behavior (he is an early Darwinist). This pits him against a loving wife (Dorothy McGuire), innocent children not yet corrupted by “sophistication,” and his daughter’s soon-to be father-in-law, a Christian minister.
It is Webb who makes the story work. Even though you find his behavior revolting, his inability to be ruffled and obvious affection for all of his children never stops winning you over. You root for him , but you root for him to see the light.
The transfer is surprisingly good for an archive film and retains the original widescreen ratio.
“The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker” is available at the 20th Century Archive Collection.