Father’s Day Reading and Viewing Pleasure

by James Scott Bell

Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Happy Father’s Day. Allow me  to recommend some of my favorite books and movies about dear old Dad.

At the top of the list, of course, is To Kill A Mockingbird. Little needs to be said here. Both book and movie are timeless classics. If ever there was a role that was meant for a specific actor, it was Atticus Finch for Gregory Peck. The movie score by Elmer Bernstein is also perfection. I’ll admit it, as soon as that score begins in the opening credits, I’m already reaching for a Kleenex.

Speaking of which, I remember reading Avery Corman’s novel Kramer vs. Kramer when it came out in the late 70s. I was a few years away from marriage and fatherhood, but I was still blubbering at the end (please keep this to yourselves). The 1979 movie, starring Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, and cute kid Justin Henry, is every bit as effective.

My favorite comedy on the subject is Father of the Bride (1950). Spencer Tracy plays the father of Elizabeth Taylor, who has become engaged. What follows are the stages of a bride’s father that seem as inevitable as the stages of grief: testing the young man about his financial future; meeting the in-laws; trying to keep down wedding expenses; surviving the emotional shakeups. It’s amazing that this comedy is as fresh today as it was back then. And yes, the ending has me at the Kleenex box again. (What is this going to do my rep as a thriller writer?)

Laurence Fishburne in Boyz n the Hood (1991)

On the other side of the spectrum is John Singleton’s 1991 urban drama Boyz n the Hood (very strong language, so be advised). Ten-year-old Trey is getting in trouble at school, so his mother Reva (Angela Bassett) decides he needs to go live with his father, Jason “Furious” Styles (Laurence Fishburne). When she drops Trey off, she says to Furious: “I can’t teach him how to be a man. That’s your job.” Furious becomes the solid rock in Trey’s life—teaching, admonishing, correcting. When he asks his boy what he knows about sex, Trey gives a boy answer. Furious replies, “Any fool … can make a baby, but only a man can raise his children.” The film cuts to seven years later and follows Trey and his friends through a series of encounters until the final, crushing climax. Trey almost makes a life-altering, criminal mistake, but once again his father is there when he needs him most. Outstanding performances by all, especially Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Ice Cube.

Speaking of solid-oak fathers, in the late 30s and into the 40s the quintessential dad was Judge James Hardy, played by Lewis Stone. He was the father of the irrepressible Andy (Mickey Rooney) who was in constant need of correction and advice. This series was wildly popular, sixteen in all, with Stone in fourteen of them. If I had to pick one to start with, it would be Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), as it is the film that adds Judy Garland to the series (not to mention a young Lana Turner!)

And then there are father-son reconciliation films. These are the flip side of mother-love-and-sacrifice movies (e.g., 1937’s Stella Dallas.) The two that get me every time are October Sky (1999) and Field of Dreams (1989).

The Crowd (1928)

I want to mention one more movie that most people, sadly, are unfamiliar with. That’s because it comes from the rich history of silent films. King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928) is an unflinching look at the pre-Depression working stiff and what happens when optimistic ambition runs up against cold, hard reality. The climax is unforgettable, only this time it’s the young son who saves the father from destruction: “I believe in you, Pop!”

Honorable Mentions:

Tarzan Finds a Son (1939)
Life With Father (1947)
The Godfather (1972)
Parenthood (1989)
Finding Nemo (2003)

Any movies or books about fathers you’d like to add? And please feel free to share any memories of your own father if you are so moved.

As a special treat, here is a priceless moment from the old Dick Cavett show, where Groucho Marx sings the Harry Ruby song “Father’s Day.”

41 thoughts on “Father’s Day Reading and Viewing Pleasure

  1. Happy Father’s Day, Jim. What a terrific list. I will definitely watch Boyz n the Hood based on your recommendation. I love that you included Tarzan Finds a Son. Is that the one where Boy is caught in the spiderweb with oversized tarantulas approaching him, and Tarzan comes to the rescue? As opposed to another Tarzan movie where a frickin’ GIANT tarantula slowly approaches someone trapped in a web and Tarzan rescues them, but the tarantula is too big to stab? I’ll have to watch it again and see.

    I would like to add The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith to your excellent list.

    Thanks for making my day, Jim.

    • Thanks, Joe, for the movie recommendation. Will Smith is terrific.

      And that spider web scene freaked me out as a kid! Hats off to little Johnny Sheffield as Boy for making it real.

  2. Thanks for the clip, Jim. My father was a big fan of Groucho. And also a fan of “Making Stuff Up.” My son was in his 40s when he discovered “…My name is Captain Spalding, the African Explorer” was a real song, not something Grandpa created.

    • Terry, I got to meet Groucho on a couple of occasions. A high school friend of mine became his secretary in Groucho’s later years. He sat right behind me at the re-release of Animal Crackers (which has the Captain Spaulding song) had been tied up for years in a legal hassle.

      • One of my high school friends had her Sweet 16 birthday party at the Hillcrest Country club where her father, a prominent LA judge, was a member. Groucho, among others popped in to wish her a happy birthday.

  3. Happy Father’s Day, Jim. Thanks for the great list. I’m adding them to my list of films to watch. I have to say that I loved Father of the Bride II. I made my daughter rewatch it with me before she got married. What a wonderful fight we had.

    • It’s such a great movie, Steve. One of those you can watch over and over again and smile just as much. My favorite scene is with the in-laws, and the two fathers have a bit too much to drink. The mother-in-law is going on and on about her son, Buckley. Spencer Tracy is starting to nod off, and gets an elbow in the ribs from his wife. He snaps to and says, “Yes, tell us all about Bulky.”

    • Good choice, John. I know the man who trained Jon Voight for that role, so really appreciate the acting job he did. I need to see it again and compare it to the 1931 Wallace Beery-Jackie Cooper original.

    • Thanks for that movie recommendation. Think I’ll have to find it and watch.

      This must be the weekend for someone to mention/recommend movies. Someone else in another conversation recommended the movie Sergeant York (1941ish) so I just watched that last night. 😎

  4. I love the moment in BOYS N THE HOOD when little Trey complains about having to do chores (clean his room, water the lawn) and challenges his dad with, “What do you have to do around here?” Furious calmly replies, “I don’t have to do nothing around here except for pay the bills, put food on the table and put clothes on your back, you understand?”

    I may have used that on my own kids a time or two.

    Happy Father’s Day, dads!

    • Hi Meg! Yes, that’s another great line from the film.

      When our son was around three, he loved his toast in the morning. I was working at a law firm then, and one day he asked his mom, “Why does Dad have to go to work?” And Cindy replied, “So you can have toast.”

      He seemed to get it.

  5. I lost my father last October, so this is my first Father’s Day without him. Luckily, I’m spending the day with my own two boys, so that’s a gift in itself. My dad was a tough, blue collar auto mechanic but he never thought twice to hug and kiss my brother and I. He also never dismissed my love of reading and writing. In fact, he encouraged it. A true renaissance man.

    A Quiet Place is an excellent movie about good fathers. John Krasinski plays a man who makes huge sacrifices for his kids. Despite living in a post-apocalyptic world, he encourages hope in his family and counties to love them, discipline them, and pray with them. He’s also expecting a new baby and takes every measure to protect him.

    • Philip, thanks for the share. Your dad sounds a lot like mine…he was a tough but loving WWII vet, and like his dad (my grandfather) a “renaissance man” who loved to orate poetry, and had my brothers and me do the same.

      Not familiar with A Quiet Place. I’ll track that down. Thanks!

  6. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. I lost my beloved father 8 years ago and he is still missed fiercely every day.

    Can’t think of any movies or books off the top of my head. When I think of tributes to fathers I tend to think music. Three in particular I love are Conway Twitty’s “That’s My Job”, Sawyer Brown’s “The Walk” and George Strait’s “A Father’s Love”.

    • BK, “A Father’s Love” by George Strait gets me every time. I even wrote a short play for church that featured the song and was about a dad/daughter relationship. It was a hit, I might add!

  7. October Sky is a favorite of mine, too, and never fails to make my eyes misty. The new animated Netflix film, Mitchells vs. the Machines, has not only a fun and funny plot about a family dealing with the robot apocalypse, but at the center is a father-daughter reconciliation story.

    My father was a blue collar guy who always put us first. Four kids (I’m the oldest) and a wife, he often worked two jobs, but always had time to encourage our interests, like mine in amateur astronomy and writing, and played board games with us. He had a wonderful sense of humor–less about quips, and more about finding the lighter side of everyday situations, as well as puncturing the pretensions of the rich and powerful, especially politicians.

    Happy Father’s Day!

    • Great tribute to your dad, Dale. Mine had a great sense of humor, too. I loved it when he laughed…it always made ME laugh. He and my mom had a great collection of vinyl comedy albums… Jonathan Winters, Stan Freberg, The First Family (Vaughn Meader imitating JFK) etc. I played them over and over.

  8. Great list, JSB. I can see I need to up my movie-watching game.

    My dad, still living at 88, is one-of-a-kind. Navy vet, good husband to my mom, reared 4 children, losing my younger brother and sister as adults, taught us integrity and to never give up. That pretty much sums him up. I love him.

    I always loved Jimmy Stewart’s depiction of a father in It’s a Wonderful Life, especially when he hugs his little daughter. The looks on their faces are priceless.

    And for the other side of the coin, James Cosmo as Campbell (the father of Wallace’s best friend, Hamish) makes me laugh every time he gives it to his son in the battle scene where Campbell is mortally wounded.

    Hamish foolishly tries to pull the lance out of his father’s chest. Campbell, in a strong father’s voice, says something you just know he has said before to Hamish.

    Idiot boy!

    Says it all for me…give your children the hard truth when necessary, and don’t pander to their feelings, or mince words. 🙂

    • Thanks, Deb. My dad was Navy, too. Glad to hear you have another Father’s Day with yours.

      Yeah, the ancient Scots were a tough breed (I have them in my lineage!)

      Jimmy Stewart gives a timeless performance in Wonderful Life. He would have won the Oscar if it hadn’t been the same year as Fredric March in Best Years of Our Lives.

  9. Thanks for this great list, Jim. I agree with you about the role of Atticus Finch. Can’t imagine anyone other than Gregory Peck in that role. I saw Spencer Tracy in “Father of the Bride” a few years ago for the first time. What a great performance! Of the many great scenes, I remember the poignant moment where his sees his wife coming downstairs dressed for the wedding.

    I had the good fortune to have had a father who was an honest, hard-working, humble, decent family man. He died a long time ago, but his memory is always with me. There are few blessings in life as wonderful as having good parents.

  10. Jim, rather than a book or movie, instead I recalled the posts you have written here at TKZ about YOUR father. Every time, your love and respect for him shine through. When you published his book PETER CHARLIE long after his death, I thought that was a wonderful tribute to him.

    Wishing you a great Father’s Day. Tell your kids from me that they have a pretty cool dad.

    • Aw, thanks so much for those words, Debbie. Means a lot.

      Re: my dad’s book…it’s selling! And even more gratifying is that I’ve gotten emails from Navy vets and sons of Navy vets thanking me for publishing it. A great tribute to my father.

  11. Love this blog, Jim. My favorite Father’s Day story was when I was in high school. At Sunday Mass, our priest said, ‘Remember, you always know who your Mother is. And you take her word about your Father.” That raised a few eyebrows.

  12. As someone with no kids and a dad gone 40 years in a few weeks, Father’s Day has become just another day. But I’ve been looking at lists like this on the nerd sites I follow for the last few days. Atticus is the clear winner as “The Dad I’d Choose.” The winner for movie nerds everywhere is Miles’ dad, Jefferson Davis, in SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE. He’s got all the moves–bad dad jokes, stern talking to lectures, and unconditional love. Of course, the winning line about fatherhood is in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 from Yondu, “He may be your father, boy, but he ain’t your daddy.” TV’s winner on THE FLASH is Barry Allen’s adoptive dad Joe West with his motivation peptalks that always turn the tide. Oddly or perhaps not, all the nerd dads are in law enforcement except Yondu who breaks laws and are not white. Yondu is blue.

    The best cartoon celebration of Father’s Day, today, is “Breaking Cat News” where the cats have decided that it’s a day to celebrate ties.


  13. Last night I watched Kevin Hart’s “Fatherhood.” It’s a mix of tears and laughter with good acting. HBOmax—my free trial month.

  14. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) from Taken. He’s not the aw shucks! heartfelt dad a la Atticus Finch, but he does have a certain set of skills, and he’s going to do anything for his daughter. Do not stand in his way.

    A silent movie that I recommend is I Was Born, but… It’s a silent Japanese film directed by Yasujiru Ozu with Chishu Ryu as the father. It’s told from the pov of his young sons. Without recapping the entire plot, the sons think the world of their father, and their world is rocked when they discover he’s not so important after all. It’s a different take on father/sons relationships.

  15. We were spending time with the greatest father-in-law ever yesterday, so I’m late. Loved Kramer vs. Kramer and Parenthood! I’ve re-watched both movies many times. Hope you had a nice Father’s Day, Jim!

Comments are closed.