I’ll admit it, I am a sucker for a great movie dad. And by “great” I don’t necessarily mean “Father of the Year material,” I mean memorable. I certainly did not envy the relationship Chelsea (Jane Fonda) had with her dad (Henry Fonda) in On Golden Pond, but I must have seen that movie a dozen times just to have an excuse to cry my eyes out. By the way, am I the only one who does that? There’s just something about a great, classic movie dad that pulls at my heartstrings more than Steel Magnolias and Beaches combined. There are few pleasures that can compare to a good cry over popcorn and a classic film. I have a long, long list of favorite “Dad-centered” movies for just such an occasion, but have narrowed it down to just a few never-fail films, perfect for Father’s Day and any time of year. Enjoy!
1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Yes, it’s a “Christmas movie” but I actually love watching this Jimmy Stewart classic during the summer. Like many dads, George Bailey puts his own dreams and plans aside over and over again for the greater good of his family. And like many dads, he finds himself questioning whether it was all worth it. Eventually, through serious sci-fi-type examination, he realizes that he has the life he never knew he always wanted. Sure he yelled at his daughter to stop playing Christmas carols on the piano, but he totally made up for it with that whole “Zuzu’s petals” routine.
2. Paper Moon (1973)
First of all, how amazing is Tatum O’Neal in this movie? Seriously! It’s no wonder she won an Oscar for playing her real-life dad’s (maybe) daughter in this memorable film. I love Paper Moon for so many reasons! My favorite moments are when Ryan O’Neal is so frustrated with Tatum but can’t do anything about it because 1. She’s a kid (maybe his), 2. She’s probably right and 3. She may be smarter than he is. It’s such a REAL relationship that you can’t take your eyes off of it for the entire picture. And can we talk for a second about the incredible fashion moment when Tatum wore a tiny tuxedo to accept the Oscar? Classic!
3. Mr. Mom (1983)
This is the most recent movie on the list, but I just couldn’t leave it out. Mr. Mom was a movie that was so far ahead of it’s time! I’m surprised my daddyblogger friends don’t go on and on and on about it. Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) becomes a stay at home dad after losing his job while his wife (Teri Garr) gets hired by a swanky ad agency. A stay at home dad in 1983? Oh yes. My favorite scene is where he tries to talk his son out of needing a security blanket, and I love how he gets hooked on daytime soaps! What’s your favorite part? I know you have one!
4. The Kid (1921)
If you’ve never seen this silent Charlie Chaplin classic, run out to your local library and pick it up TODAY. And while you’re at it, pick up a bargain pack of tissues, ‘cause your gonna need them. Charlie Chaplin’s beloved character “The Little Tramp” finds an abandoned baby, then raises him as his own son and partner in petty crime. Jackie Coogan is so criminally cute in this movie that it’s almost impossible to believe he grew up to be Uncle Fester. I dare you not to cry when the authorities come to take him to the orphanage.
5. Captain January (1936)
My husband recently told me that he finally accepted that this country is in a recession when he saw TV commercials for DVD collections of the films of Shirley Temple. “Wow, I guess times really are that tough!” Captain January actually has a similar plotline to The Kid, a lighthouse keeper finds a baby in the sea (Yes, I said he found a baby in the sea. Try and suspend your disbelief a little here, people, this is Shirley Temple we’re talking about!) and raises her as his own. She lives a happy, carefree life of watching ships and dancing with Buddy Ebsen-until a truant officer threatens to take her away make her go to school—gasp! Fortunately it all works out in the end for dear little Shirley and “Cap.” It’s true, Miss Temple lightened many a Depression-era heart and I can pretty much guarantee she’ll do the same to yours.
6. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
I adore this movie for so many reasons. It features a young Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles (when it was brand-new and state-of-the-art) and the guy who played Paul Drake, the private detective on Perry Mason (you remember, the one with the white hair). And then of course, there’s James Dean. But in my opinion, the real unsung hero of Rebel is Jim Backus (you know, Thurston Howell? Mr. Magoo?). Backus plays Dean’s father, a seemingly weak-willed, apron-wearing wimp who in those days would have been called “hen-pecked” and who nowadays we would call “whipped.” Dean tries so hard to be the opposite of the weakling he perceives his dad to be, but in the end Backus gives him the only real advice on being a man the boy receives, plus a father’s unconditional love.
7. Giant (1956)
Yes, I have two James Dean movies on this list. It’s my list and I can do what I want—just consider yourself lucky I didn’t also include East of Eden (which, by the way, is another great dad flick). But Giant isn’t on the list because of James Dean, it’s here for Rock Hudson’s character, Bick Benedict, the old-school Texas rancher who, at the beginning of the film, regards the Mexicans who work his ranch as little more than cattle. Over the years, he mends the error of his ways, particularly after seeing the racism faced by his son, daughter-in-law (a Mexican-American woman) and grandchildren. My favorite scene is the very last one, where Benedict gets into a knockdown, drag-out fistfight with the owner of a diner who asks an old Mexican man to leave his place of business. Way to go, Grandpa!
8. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Okay, so it’s another Liz Taylor movie. What can I say? I love her. In fact, I have been searching my entire adult life for a white slip like the one she wears in this picture. Plus, Paul Newman is muy caliente as Brick—who cares if he’s gay? Oh wait, were we not supposed to know that? Anyhoo, my favorite character in this movie is Big Daddy, played by Burl Ives. You can’t help but love the boisterous, bellowing, big softie as he rails against his imminent death and tries to buy the love of his son. Ives’ monologue at the end of the film, where Big Daddy recalls the death of his own father and how much he loved him even though he didn’t have a cent to his name, always gets me. I love you, Big Daddy!
9. The Champ (1931)
If you don’t cry at this movie, you’d better make an appointment with a geologist because you might be made of stone. Wallace Beery plays “The Champ,” a broken-down ex-boxer who is just about the worst deadbeat dad in the history of film. An alcoholic gambler, he is perpetually breaking the heart of his little boy, Dink (played in an outstanding performance by Jackie Cooper), who continues to lavish him with love. Dink loves The Champ so much that you can’t help but love him too. No way can you watch this kid cry without tearing up yourself, at least a little. Years later, Cooper recounted that the director, in order to get the child actor to cry so convincingly on cue, would threaten to shoot Cooper’s dog. Yikes!
I guess I’m just a “Daddy’s Girl”—I actually got a little weepy just putting that list together! Who’s your favorite classic movie dad? And are we going to need tissues?
Wishing you love with extra cheese—