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12 June 2019

Daddy Dearest

Father's Day was June 16.  So here's a question:  Who is the best movie father in cinematic history?

(Courtesy: Walt Disney)

We could certainly make a case for Geppetto, the elderly woodcarver of Pinocchio, Walt Disney Productions second full-length animated feature of 1940.

Geppetto wanted a son so badly that he carved one out of wood.  A Blue Fairy gave the puppet life and freed the lovable-but-gullible "boy" from his strings.  My nose would grow and grow if  I denied that Pinocchio made an indelible impression on me as a boy.

I don't have a cricket around to guide me along life's meandering path, but I can't count the times I've wished upon a star, thanks to a magical gem of a film about and proud papa and his son.  From this aisle seat, Geppetto is a very strong candidate.

There are also a couple of fathers of the brides to consider.  Spencer Tracy walked Elizabeth Taylor down the aisle in the 1950 original Father of the Bride.  Steve Martin gave the reluctant father-of-the- bride role his own comic twist in the 1991 remake.  Kimberly Williams made her big-screen debut as the bride-to-be in that one and Martin Short, Martin's longtime pal and comic partner, chewed the scenery wildly as the way-over-the-top wedding planner in the latter father-daughter comedy.

Tracy and Martin are to be seriously considered as our Daddy Dearest.

There are, however, several other very strong contenders.  One of my personal favorites is Matt King, the father living in the Hawaiian paradise, but suffering horrible emotional pain in Alexander Payne's The Descendants in 2011.  George Clooney is perfection in the difficult role of a caring father whose world is crashing down around him.  Clooney deserves a serious look.

I also like Mac MacGuff, the perplexed but loving father of a pregnant and deeply troubled teenage daughter (Ellen Page) portrayed with great skill by Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) in Juno (2007). 

Mrs. Doubtfire350
Robin Williams and Robin Williams (Courtesy: 20th Century Fox)

There needs to be a special category for Daniel Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).  Let's face it, the late Robin Williams was amazing in a hilarious, heartfelt dual role as a dad losing his wife and kids who disguises himself as a female housekeeper to be close to his estranged family.  After all, how many fathers do you know who have set their breasts on fire to win back their family?

And when it comes to fathers who give every ounce of their soul to save or protect their sons, we must consider Chris Gardner (Will Smith), Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni). 

All are strong choices.  Gardner (Smith) worked two jobs (one for free) to find a better life for his son (portrayed by Smith's real-life boy Jaden) in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006).  Marlin, the shy clown fish voiced by Brooks, swam an ocean looking for his son in Finding Nemo (2003).  And Benigni took home a Best Actor Academy Award as a selfless father determined to convince his young son that the Nazi concentration camp they are confined in during World War II is all a game in Life Is Beautiful, which also won the Best Foreign Film Oscar of 2006.

Gregory Peck and Mary Badham (Courtesy: Universal Pictures)

As you can see, there are plenty of strong contenders when it comes to the best cinematic father figure.

Picking just one, however, I have to go with Atticus Finch, the devoted father and fearless caring small town lawyer in Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird of 1962.

Gregory Peck, who died at 87 in 2003, was nominated five times for Academy Awards.  The legendary, often soft-spoken actor won only once.

 That was for his extraordinary performance as a widower raising two young children and fighting for justice in a fictional Alabama town in the early 1930s.

The best acting often comes from reacting, as this scene from To Kill a Mockingbird points out so well.  This is why Peck's Atticus Finch is my choice for Daddy Dearest:


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