This category could easily be dominated by Gregory Peck’s incredible performance as Atticus Finch, the father of Scout and Jem, in To Kill a Mockingbird. However, I have opted to recommend four lesser known little gems and two other appropriate classics from the sixties with the great Maureen O’Hara.
1. Champions: A Love Story (1978) with James Vincent McNichol, Joy LeDuc, Tony Lo Bianco, Shirley Knight, Jennifer Warren and Richard Jaeckel: Peter Scoggin (superbly played by Jimmy McNichol) decides to give up hockey in favor of figure skating with his girlfriend Carrie Harlich (Joy Le Duc). His father (the always underrated Richard Jaeckel), who coaches the hockey team, objects. However, Peter’s mother is very supportive, so his father takes on additional jobs so that he can pay for his son’s training. Peter and Carrie are a great team, and their relationship is magical. Sadly, although Peter’s father provides everything his son needs to be successful, he never sees his son skate with Carrie in their tournaments.
2. Daddy Nostalgia (1990) with Dirk Bogarde, Jane Birkin, and Odette Laure: The excellent actor Dirk Bogarde was persuaded to come out of retirement to play a man with heart disease who does not have long to live. Unfortunately, this was Mr. Bogarde’s last film: he returned to retirement and died in 1999. He was one of our finest actors, but he rarely was offered good scripts. This film has an exceptionally fine script. Jane Birkin plays the daughter, a Parisian screenwriter, who comes to her parents’ seaside home to help out with her father’s recovery from a rather serious heart operation. She and her father hardly know each other. He had been a good provider but not a good companion to his daughter, being more concerned with his occupation and enjoying “the good life.” He admits that he really envied himself: unlike many others, he had had a really fun life. What angered him most was, that when he died, the party would go on without him, and he was not ready to leave.
3. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) with James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Fabian, Laurie Peters, John Saxon, John McGiver, Marie Wilson, Reginald Gardiner, and Michael Burns: James Stewart wants to get away his bank in St. Louis for a while to spend some time alone with his wife, Maureen O’Hara. She has other plans and books the whole family into a California beach house that Stewart describes as “If it was good enough for Edgar Allen Poe, it’s good enough for us.” It turns out that the two married daughters are having marital problems, the unmarried daughter has withdrawn from the human race because of the braces on her teeth, and Danny, the youngest, only wants to watch TV westerns. Can the father solve all their problems? Remember, he’s James Stewart. This one is fun, and Henry Mancini’s music is an additional plus.
4. My Father’s Glory (1991) – in French with English subtitles – with Phillippe Caubere and Julian Ciamaca: This is one of the most enjoyable and wonderful movies that anyone could ever wish to see. A friend told me that when she was watching it, because it was so wonderful, she just knew that something bad was going to happen and worried about it all the way through. Relax. Enjoy it. Nothing bad ever happens. It takes place in the south of France around 1900 and is the autobiographical story of Marcel Pagnol’s magical childhood. The 11-year-old Marcel is superbly played by Julian Ciamaca, and his school-teacher father is perfectly captured by Phillippe Caubere. At one point, Marcel’s father thinks it is funny and degrading that one of his colleagues had his picture taken with a fish that he had caught. However, the family spends a summer vacation in the mountains and a hunting expedition takes place. What will be Marcel’s father’s glory? The sequel, My Mother’s Castle, is listed in my Films for the Christmas Season.
5. Spencer’s Mountain (1963) with Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara, James MacArthur, Mimsy Farmer, Wally Cox, Veronica Cartwright, and Donald Crisp: Everyone knows the family in this one. The last name of the family was changed for a television series, and The Waltons ran for 9 seasons. James MacArthur, as Clay-Boy Spencer (not John-Boy), wants to go to college; but, with no money, it appears to be an impossible dream. However, his father (played by Henry Fonda) has his own dream: to build dream house on Spencer’s Mountain. However, Clay Spencer is determined to find a way for his first son to succeed so that his other children can follow. Both dreams may not be obtainable. The Grand Teton Mountains and Max Steiner’s fine music score complement the excellent cast and story.
6. The Winslow Boy (1999) with Nigel Hawthorne, Jeremy Northam, Rebecca Pidgeon, Gemma Jones, Matthew Pidgeon, and Guy Edwards: The 14-year-old Ronnie Winslow (Guy Edwards) is expelled from the Royal Naval Academy for stealing 5 shillings from a classmate. Ronnie’s father Arthur (Nigel Hawthorne) asks the boy if the charge is true. When Ronnie insists he is innocent, his father determines to clear his son’s name. The expense of the litigation is devastating to Arthur Winslow’s family: personal savings are lost, his daughter Catherine loses her marriage dowry, and his other son Dickie has to leave college. After all appeals fail, the only hope is to gain the right to sue the Crown by an act of Parliament. The family hopes to persuade an important member of Parliament, Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam), to accept the brief and represent the Winslow boy. The father sacrifices almost everything for a principle: Let Right Be Done.
by David Offutt, June 2006