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By Matthew J. Franck, Public Discourse, June 19, 2020

The best depictions of fathers in classic films.

To discover more excellent reads and cinema selections, don’t miss our Isolation Bookshelf collection.


Dads never get a break. Or at least so you might conclude from their depiction in movies, in which they are often put upon, led around by the nose by their wives and children, and generally made figures of fun. Moms get somewhat better treatment in film, but perhaps that is because maternal love and self-sacrifice tug at our heartstrings so much more effectively. Solid, stolid fathers, on the other hand? They get the pratfalls.

This weekend is the second Father’s Day since my dad passed away, and both his virtues and his foibles have led me to think about the best depictions of fathers in classic films. Turner Classic Movies will devote the day to dad films, and several that I would recommend will be shown there. Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), with Edward G. Robinson as a Norwegian immigrant farmer in Wisconsin, is a fine example. Robinson’s Martinius Jacobson is all kindness and care, the kind of father who cares about his child’s upbringing above all other considerations. Life With Father (1947), played more for laughs, gives us William Powell as Clarence Day, the benevolent tyrant of his household, who is all bluster, bellowing, and bellyaching, but who in truth would move heaven and earth (and even bend his knees) for the sake of his family. And Father of the Bride (1950) stars Spencer Tracy as the title character, worrying his way frantically and hilariously through the wedding plans—and the bills—generated by his daughter Elizabeth Taylor and his wife Joan Bennett.  ….

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