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Father’s Day Top 5 Movies: From Compassionate Peck to Sociopath Gielgud

Father of the Bride Steve Martin Father’s Day Movies
Father of the Bride with Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams: Father’s Day Movies.

Top Five Father’s Day Movies? From giant Gregory Peck to tyrant John Gielgud

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

What would be the Top Five Father’s Day movies ever made?

Well, there have been countless films about fathers and/or featuring fathers of various sizes, shapes, and inclinations. In terms of quality, these range from the amusing – e.g., the 1950 version of Cheaper by the Dozen; the Oscar-nominated The Grandfather – to the nauseating – e.g., the 1950 version of Father of the Bride; its atrocious sequel, Father’s Little Dividend.

Although I’m unable to come up with the absolute Top Five Father’s Day Movies – or rather, just plain Father Movies – ever made, below are the first five (actually six, including a remake) “quality” patriarch-centered films that come to mind.

Now, the fathers portrayed in these films aren’t all heroic, loving, and/or saintly paternal figures. Several are downright monsters – much like millions of daddies the world over.

But wouldn’t that be both tasteless and offensive, having mean daddies included on a Top Five Father’s Day Movie list?

Well, to quote a wise old lady (Cicely Courtneidge) teaching the facts of life to a young woman (Leslie Caron) in a movie made long, long ago (Bryan ForbesThe L-Shaped Room, 1963), “It takes all sorts, dear.”

And here they are.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street John Gielgud Jennifer Jones incest‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’: John Gielgud and Jennifer Jones in not-so-veiled incest-themed drama.

‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’: Charles Laughton and John Gielgud

In the 1934 and 1957 movie versions of Rudolf Besier’s real-life-inspired, 19th-century-set play The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Charles Laughton and John Gielgud were respectively cast as the tyrannical widower Edward Moulton-Barrett, who will do whatever it takes to prevent any of his (many) children from getting married.[1]

In his own pathological manner, Moulton-Barrett is particularly concerned for the general well being of his invalid daughter Elizabeth Barrett. Even if that means ensuring that she remains physically weak so he can go on protecting her from the evils of the world – especially those of the flesh. (In real life, Moulton-Barrett was a devoutly Christian man.)

Thanks to her father’s unfailing care and attentiveness, life is sheer hell for Elizabeth, a de facto prisoner in her own home. Romantic love – in the form of dashing poet Robert Browning – becomes Elizabeth’s key to her freedom.

Simmering Charles Laughton vs. cool John Gielgud

Portrayed as a simmering sociopath – with more than a few elements in common with his Captain Bligh of the following year – Charles Laughton’s Edward Moulton-Barrett remains one of the most memorable performances of the Oscar winner’s career.[2]

John Gielgud, on the other hand, opted for a more reserved portrayal of Moulton-Barrett that, unfortunately, turns out to be both less menacing and less effective than Laughton’s. Yet, on the positive side, Gielgud is the one who makes patently clear Moulton-Barrett’s incestuous attraction to Elizabeth – which makes his domineering behavior both more complex and more understandable.[3]

Veteran Sidney Franklin, making movies since the 1910s (The Hoodlum, Her Sister from Paris), directed both versions. The remake, in fact, was Franklin’s first such job in two decades, following The Good Earth (1937) – which had earned him his one and only Best Director Academy Award nomination.[4]

Overall, these two film adaptations of The Barretts of Wimpole Street are equally engrossing. Whereas Charles Laughton is a more effective Edward Moulton-Barrett than John Gielgud, Jennifer Jones is a more affecting Elizabeth Barrett than the Oscar-nominated Norma Shearer (though neither actress possessed the harsh looks of the real-life Elizabeth). Fredric March and Bill Travers, for their part, are both equally miscast as Robert Browning.

Critics of the period generally preferred the 1934 version, which also happened to be a box office hit and a Best Picture Academy Award nominee. (The winner that year was Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.)

Padre Padrone Omero Antonutti tyrant daddy‘Padre Padrone’ with Omero Antonutti and Saverio Marconi: Daddy Tyrant.

‘Padre Padrone’: Omero Antonutti

Based on Gavino Ledda’s autobiography, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s father-son drama Padre Padrone (1977) depicts the troubled relationship between a young Sardinian man (Saverio Marconi) and his old-fashioned – i.e., reactionary, brutally domineering – father (Omero Antonutti).[5]

The setting is mid-20th-century rural Sardinia, but Padre Padrone might as well have been set anywhere in Europe during the Middle Ages – or earlier.

Padre Padrone, which literally translates as “Father Master” or “Father Boss,” won both the Palme d’Or and the International Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. Additionally, it earned the Taviani brothers a special David di Donatello from the Academy of Italian Cinema, and the Best Director Award from the National Syndicate of Italian Film Journalists.

Saverio Marconi (Hotel Locarno, Contraband), who would later become a stage director, was the Italian Film Journalists’ Best New Actor. Marconi also received a BAFTA nomination for Best Newcomer.

Gregory Peck To Kill a Mockingbird Idealized father figureGregory Peck in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Idealized father figure.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Gregory Peck

Gregory Peck’s compassionate, liberal-minded, small-town Alabama attorney Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is one of cinema’s iconic characters. Directed by Robert Mulligan from Horton Foote’s screenplay – based on the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning Harper Lee novel – this mix of family drama, coming-of-age drama, and socially conscious drama remains one of the best-known and best-liked Hollywood movies of the 1960s.

The father of pre-teens “Scout” (Mary Badham) and “Jem” (Phillip Alford), Atticus Finch is notable not only because of his defense of a black man (Brock Peters) accused of raping a white teenager in the deeply racist American South of the 1930s, but also because he takes the trouble to teach his children that, however acceptable among god-fearing folk, bigotry should not be a Family Value. Disturbingly, a lesson as relevant now – whether in the American South or elsewhere on the planet – as it was more than half a century ago.

After four previous Best Actor nominations, Gregory Peck finally took home a well-deserved Academy Award for his efforts.[6] And so did Horton Foote, and, for the film’s Black-and-White Art Direction, Alexander Golitzen, Henry Bumstead, and Oliver Emert.[7]

Additionally, To Kill a Mockingbird was nominated for five other Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress (Mary Badham).

Bicycle Thieves‘Bicycle Thieves’ with Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola: Socially conscious father-son drama.

‘Bicycle Thieves’: Lamberto Maggiorani

In Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948), non-professional actor Lamberto Maggiorani plays Antonio Ricci, an impoverished husband and father who uses his bike to travel around Rome while putting up posters of Rita Hayworth in Gilda.

One day his bicycle gets stolen. How will Antonio be able to support his family?

A Hollywood production – then or now – would come up with some facile (and/or outlandish) solution to Antonio’s problem. But as Robert Altman points out in The Player, Bicycle Thieves, which could be considered the acme of the Italian neo-realist movement, makes the overwhelming majority of Hollywood movies, including those of the socially conscious kind, feel very phony indeed.

So, Antonio doesn’t find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In fact, there is no rainbow to be found in the war-ravaged, black-and-white Italy of the late 1940s.

In the film’s climactic sequence, Antonio’s young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) must come to his father’s rescue when the desperate man is himself accused of being a bicycle thief.

Anchored by outstanding performances, Bicycle Thieves won a well-deserved Academy Award as the Best Foreign Language Film released in the United States in 1949, as well as a New York Film Critics Award in that category. In addition, screenwriter Cesare Zavattini was nominated for the Best Screenplay Oscar.[8]

Henry Fonda On Golden Pond Jane Fonda real life father daughter interplayHenry Fonda in ‘On Golden Pond,’ with Jane Fonda: Real-life/screen-life father-daughter interplay.

‘On Golden Pond’: Henry Fonda

Directed by Mark Rydell and adapted by Ernest Thompson from his own play, On Golden Pond (1981) is hardly one of the greatest “family movies” (i.e., movies about families). The storyline – ailing, curmudgeonly Dad and resentful, middle-aged daughter discover some common ground; troubled step-grandson-to-be becomes less troubled after learning to enjoy fishing – is much too sentimental and more than a little trite.

You’d never get On Golden Pond mixed up with an Ingmar Bergman or Michelangelo Antonioni existential family drama.

Having said that, Mark Rydell’s film is a remarkable effort for several reasons:

  • The performances of Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn as, respectively, the irascible patriarch who’s aware that his days are numbered and his devoted but forceful wife.
  • It’s the first and only movie featuring Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda, who not coincidentally plays the daughter in the film.
  • It was the biggest sleeper hit of the year.

Besides, On Golden Pond earned Fonda his first Best Actor Academy Award and Katharine Hepburn her fourth.[9]

More Father’s Day Movies

Herbert Brenon’s hard-to-find Sorrell and Son (1927) is both daring and surprisingly moving, chiefly thanks to a superlative performance by H.B. Warner as the titular Sorrell.

Ludwig Berger’s Sins of the Fathers (1928) is even harder to find – after all, it’s considered a lost film. Emil Jannings is the sinning father, while son Barry Norton is the one who suffers the consequences of his dad’s misdeeds.

In John Ford’s Welsh-set How Green Was My Valley (1941) a young Roddy McDowall pays homage to his no-nonsense father (Donald Crisp), while in Vincente Minnelli’s sentimental bourgeois comedy Father of the Bride (1950) Spencer Tracy can’t accept the fact that he’ll be losing pretty daughter Elizabeth Taylor to husband-to-be Don Taylor. Of course, one could try to find all sorts of Freudian peculiarities in Tracy’s behavior, but Father of the Bride is so proudly bland and artificial that it simply wouldn’t be worth the effort.

There are more would-be Freudian goings-on – including a “double pregnancy” climax (no pun intended) – in Father’s Little Dividend (1951), which somehow succeeds in being even more proudly mechanical than its predecessor.

Fathers light and dark

More interesting is Pietro Germi’s Seduced and Abandoned (1964), in which traditionalist patriarch Saro Urzi fearlessly fights to preserve, in no particular order of importance, the sanctity of family life, the reputation of unmarried daughter Stefania Sandrelli (who’s no longer a virgin), and his own image within his small Sicilian town.

Star Wars (1977) would have been a more intriguing film had George Lucas focused less on visual pyrotechnics and more on the relationship between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his nemesis, Darth Vader (voice by James Earl Jones) – who turns out to be Luke’s own father.

In Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) a young gay man (Marc-André Grondin) finds himself at odds with his affable but narrow-minded father (Michel Côté), while in Richard Linklater’s well-received Boyhood (2014), Ethan Hawke is the divorced father of Ellar Coltrane.

The Steve Martin star vehicles Father of the Bride (1991) and Father of the Bride Part II (1995) are remakes of the two Spencer Tracy movies of the early 1950s. Martin also starred in the 2003 remake of Cheaper by the Dozen – like Father of the Bride a successful 1950 release revolving around the relationship between a father (Clifton Webb) and his daughter (Jeanne Crain, as the eldest of 12 children).

Below is the list of Father’s Day movies mentioned in the text, in addition to a handful of other notable Father Movie titles (whether artistically or commercially), with their respective director and key cast members.

  • Sorrell and Son (1927).
    Director: Academy Award (Best Direction, Drama) nominee Herbert Brenon.
    Cast: H.B. Warner. Nils Asther. Anna Q. Nilsson. Alice Joyce. Mickey McBan. Louis Wolheim. Carmel Myers. Mary Nolan. Lionel Belmore. Norman Trevor.
  • Sins of the Fathers (1928).
    Director: Ludwig Berger.
    Cast: Emil Jannings. Ruth Chatterton. Barry Norton. Jean Arthur. ZaSu Pitts.
  • The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934).
    Director: Sidney Franklin.
    Cast: Norma Shearer. Charles Laughton. Fredric March. Maureen O’Sullivan. Katharine Alexander. Ralph Forbes. Ian Wolfe. Una O’Connor. Leo G. Carroll.
  • Best Picture Academy Award winner How Green Was My Valley (1941).
    Director: Academy Award winner John Ford.
    Cast: Walter Pidgeon. Maureen O’Hara. Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winner Donald Crisp. Roddy McDowall. Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominee Sara Allgood. Anna Lee. Patric Knowles.
  • Bicycle Thieves / The Bicycle Thief / Ladri di biciclette (1948).
    Director: Vittorio De Sica.
    Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani. Enzo Staiola.
  • Best Picture Academy Award nominee Father of the Bride (1950).
    Director: Vincente Minnelli.
    Cast: Best Actor Academy Award nominee Spencer Tracy. Joan Bennett. Elizabeth Taylor. Don Taylor.
  • Cheaper by the Dozen (1950).
    Director: Walter Lang.
    Cast: Clifton Webb. Myrna Loy. Jeanne Crain.
  • Father’s Little Dividend (1951).
    Director: Vincente Minnelli.
    Cast: Spencer Tracy. Joan Bennett. Elizabeth Taylor. Don Taylor.
  • The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957).
    Director: Sidney Franklin.
    Cast: Jennifer Jones. John Gielgud. Bill Travers. Virginia McKenna. Maxine Audley. Leslie Phillips.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).
    Director: Robert Mulligan.
    Cast: Gregory Peck. Mary Badham. Brock Peters. Phillip Alford. Robert Duvall. Rosemary Murphy. Alice Ghostley. William Windom. And the voice of Kim Stanley.
  • Seduced and Abandoned / Sedotta e abbandonata (1964).
    Director: Pietro Germi.
    Cast: Saro Urzi. Stefania Sandrelli. Aldo Puglisi.
  • Padre Padrone (1977).
    Director: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.
    Cast: Omero Antonutti. Saverio Marconi. Marcella Michelangeli. Fabrizio Forte.
Star Wars Darth Vader Father of the Jedi‘Star Wars’ Darth Vader: Father of the Jedi.
  • Best Picture Oscar nominee Star Wars (1977).
    Director: George Lucas.
    Cast: Mark Hamill. Harrison Ford. Carrie Fisher. Alec Guinness. Peter Cushing. Anthony Daniels. Kenny Baker. And the voice of James Earl Jones.
  • On Golden Pond (1981).
    Director: Mark Rydell.
    Cast: Henry Fonda. Katharine Hepburn. Jane Fonda. Doug McKeon. Dabney Coleman. Christopher Rydell.
  • My Father’s Glory / La gloire de mon père (1990).
    Yves Robert.
    Cast: Philippe Caubère. Nathalie Roussel. Didier Pain. Julien Ciamaca. Victorien Delamare.
  • Father of the Bride (1991).
    Director: Charles Shyer.
    Cast: Steve Martin. Diane Keaton. Martin Short. Kimberly Williams-Paisley. George Newbern. Kieran Culkin. B.D. Wong.
  • The Grandfather / El abuelo (1998).
    Director: José Luis Garci.
    Cast: Fernando Fernán Gómez. Cayetana Guillén Cuervo. Rafael Alonso. Agustín González. Cristina Cruz. Alicia Rozas. Fernando Guillén.
  • Cheaper by the Dozen (2003).
    Director: Shawn Levy.
    Cast: Steve Martin. Hilary Duff. Tom Welling. Bonnie Hunt. Piper Perabo. Ashton Kutcher. Alyson Stoner. Kevin Schmidt. Richard Jenkins.
  • Multiple Genie Award winner C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005).
    Director: Jean-Marc Vallée.
    Cast: Marc-André Grondin. Michel Côté. Danielle Proulx. Emile Vallée. Pierre-Luc Brillant. Francis Ducharme.
  • Best Picture Academy Award nominee Boyhood (2014).
    Director: Academy Award nominee Richard Linklater.
    Cast: Ellar Coltrane. Best Supporting Actress Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette. Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke. Lorelei Linklater. Zoe Graham. Nick Krause. Brad Hawkins. Evie Thompson. Shane Graham.

‘Top 5 Father’s Day Movies: From grumpy Henry Fonda to sociopathic John Gielgud’ notes

[1] First performed at Britain’s Malvern Festival in Aug. 1930 and later staged at the Queen’s Theatre in London, The Barretts of Wimpole Street starred Cedric Hardwicke as Edward Moulton-Barrett, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Elizabeth Barrett, and Scott Sunderland as Robert Browning.

On Broadway, Charles Waldron played Moulton-Barrett, Katharine Cornell was Elizabeth, and Brian Aherne was Browning.

[2] Charles Laughton played Captain Bligh in Frank Lloyd’s Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), for which he received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination.

For his performance in Alexander Korda’s British-made The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), Laughton took home the Best Actor Academy Award for the period 1932-33.

The 1934 The Barretts of Wimpole Street, in fact, was the first movie ever to feature three Academy Award winners: Laughton, Norma Shearer (Best Actress for Robert Z. Leonard’s The Divorcee, 1929-30), and Fredric March (Best Actor for Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1931-32).*

* Due to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences regulations at the time, Fredric March tied with Wallace Beery – who received one less Best Actor vote – for King Vidor’s The Champ.

Incest vs. censors

[3] About the more heavily censored 1934 version of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Charles Laughton reportedly said, “They can censor it all they like, but they can’t censor the gleam out of my eye.”

Yet according to the Los Angeles Times’ Philip K. Scheuer, Laughton dismissed “the outré suggestion of irregularity” in the relationship between Edward Moulton-Barrett and his daughter Elizabeth, describing it as “an affectionate bond often existing between father and child.”*

Perhaps that’s why, as mentioned in this article, John Gielgud is the one who clearly conveys Moulton-Barrett’s incestuous attraction to his eldest daughter.

Also of note, in a Dec. 1888 letter to Robert Browning, Elizabeth’s brother George wrote that their father “was kind & tenderly attached to his children, in excess indeed as he could not bear the idea of a profession or a marriage that would lead to separation.”

It’s unclear whether that should be interpreted as a description of boundless fatherly devotion or unbridled sociopathic conduct.

* Philip K. Scheuer quote re: Charles Laughton via Mark A. Vieira’s Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince.

Charles Laughton The Barretts of Wimpole Street Best Picture Academy Award nomineeCharles Laughton in ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ with Norma Shearer: Best Picture Academy Award nominee.

Sidney Franklin producer

[4] Between 1939 and 1954, Sidney Franklin worked as a film producer, mostly at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His credits during that period included:

For the record, the Best Director Academy Award of 1937 (at the 1938 ceremony) went to Leo McCarey for The Awful Truth, starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. The Good Earth starred Paul Muni and Best Actress Academy Award winner Luise Rainer.

Omero Antonutti movies

[5] As found on the IMDb, Omero Antonutti made his film debut in Armando Crispino and Luciano Lucignani’s Pleasant Nights / Le piacevoli notti, an episodic comedy set in the Middle Ages, and starring Vittorio Gassman and Gina Lollobrigida. That same year, Antonutti was also featured in Ernst Hofbauer’s West German production Schwarzer Markt der Liebe (“The Black Market of Love”).

Following an eight-year break, Antonutti’s movie career finally took off in the mid-’70s. Since then, he has been seen in nearly 50 films, among them:

  • Basileus Quartet / Il quartetto Basileus (1983).
    Director: Fabio Carpi.
    Cast: Héctor Alterio. Omero Antonutti. Alain Cuny. Pierre Malet. François Simon. Gabriele Ferzetti. Mimsy Farmer.
  • Kaos (1984).
    Director: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.
    Cast: Margarita Lozano. Omero Antonutti.
  • Farinelli (1994).
    Director: Gérard Corbiau.
    Cast: Enrico Lo Verso. Elsa Zylberstein. Jeroen Krabbé. Omero Antonutti.

Also worth noting, Antonutti was the narrator in Roberto Benigni’s Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award winner Life Is Beautiful (1997).

On the big screen, he was most recently seen in Riccardo Milani’s 2013 release Benvenuto Presidente! (“Welcome, Mr. President!”), as the General Secretary.

Gregory Peck Oscar nominations

[6] Gregory Peck’s four previous Best Actor Academy Award nominations:

[7] Coincidentally, 21 years later Horton Foote would receive a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Bruce Beresford’s 1983 drama Tender Mercies, starring Best Actor winner Robert Duvall – who has a key supporting role in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Oscar 1949: Cesare Zavattini vs. Joseph L. Mankiewicz

[8] The Best Foreign Language Film Oscar remained an Honorary Award until 1956, when non-English-language films were given their own competitive category.

Cesare Zavattini lost the Best Screenplay Oscar to Joseph L. Mankiewicz for the Mankiewicz-directed 20th Century Fox release A Letter to Three Wives – very much a studio production (20th Century Fox in this case), starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Paul Douglas, Kirk Douglas, and Jeffrey Lynn.

Three consecutive Oscars

[9] With her Best Actress Academy Award win for On Golden Pond, Katharine Hepburn became only the second – and to date last – performer with three consecutive Oscar wins for three consecutive nominations. Her previous two wins had been for Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and Anthony Harvey’s The Lion in Winter (1968, tied with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl).

Walter Brennan was the first performer to achieve that feat, when he won in the Best Supporting Actor category for Howard Hawks and William Wyler’s Come and Get It (1936), David Butler’s Kentucky (1938), and Wyler’s The Westerner (1940).

Image of The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957) with John Gielgud and Jennifer Jones: MGM.

Image of Padre Padrone with Omero Antonutti and Saverio Marconi: Rai 2.

Gregory Peck To Kill a Mockingbird image: Universal Pictures.

Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves image with Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola: P.D.S.

Image of Jane Fonda and Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond: Universal Pictures.

Image of Kimberly Williams and Steve Martin in Father of the Bride: Touchstone Pictures / Walt Disney Studios.

Darth Vader Star Wars image: 20th Century Fox.

Image of Norma Shearer and Charles Laughton in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934): MGM.

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