Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father's Day

By Bill S.
It's Father's Day, and as always, we celebrate the occasion by remembering TV and Movie dads who make us grateful for the one we had. This year I thought I'd take a slightly different approach, by focusing on one TV show, and honoring a film actor who excelled at playing questionable dads. I'll call it the "RiverDuvall" edition.

The men of Riverdale.  An insane mix of Beverly Hills 90210, One Tree Hill and Peyton Place (with just a smidgen of Twin Peaks sprinkled in), Riverdale is one of my favorite current guilty pleasures. (To give you an idea of just how far it strays from the old "Archie" comics, the reigning male sex symbol is Jughead, owing mainly to the casting of Cole Sprouse.) Just about every parent on the show is a hot mess in one way or another, with the exception of Archie's dad Fred (one reason among many why Luke Perry will be sorely missed). Among the show's terrible dads...

Clifford Blossom (Barclay Hope). The father of twins Jason and Cheryl, he earned his money supposedly by selling maple syrup, but that's just a front for drug trafficking, including a substance known as "Jingle-Jangle" (an in-joke reference to a bubblegum pop hit by The Archies). When Jason found out, Clifford killed him. Once his secret was known by the town, he committed suicide. Barclay Hope returned to the series to play Clifford's twin brother Claudius, allowing to play a terrible uncle.

Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). Don't ask my why I know this, but Mark won the "Choice TV Villain" prize at last year's Teen Choice Awards. Veronica's dad is the richest man in town, and it turns out he's a mob boss intent on owning all of Riverdale. Which is pretty much what we all suspected although in the comic book, although there he didn't have washboard abs and teeth that outshine the sun.

Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Monro). I'd have to recap three seasons worth of storylines to describe how evil Betty's father was, but I'll just bottom-line it for you all: he turned out to be the serial killer known as "The Hood" who'd been terrorizing the town. Which really put a strain on his relationship with Betty.

Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray). The leader of a creepy religious cult known as "The Farm". With the help of his teenage daughter Evelyn, he lured otherwise sensible people into joining by hypnotizing them into believing they were seeing deceased loved ones...and then harvesting their organs for sale on the black market. Edgar's inclusion on this list is debatable though, since we eventually find out that Evelyn is neither a teenager nor his daughter, but actually his wife. Well, one of them anyway.

A while back, I devoted a Mother's Day column to actress Jessica Walter, who played quite a few terrible moms in her career. This year, I thought I'd single out an actor for his portrayal of bad dads: seven time Oscar nominee Robert Duvall. Of course in his six decades long career, he's played a wide variety of memorable characters. Yet it's surprising how often he earned a spot on the Bad Dad list. Among them:

Lt. Col. Wilbur "Bull" Meechum in The Great Santini.  Probably the movie character who leaps to the front of our minds when we think "terrible dad", Bull was a bully, a racist, homophobic, sexist and seemingly incapable of showing any warmth. Who could forget the scene where he bounces a basketball off his son's head? Most of the characters are afraid of standing up to him, which is why we're grateful for his daughter Mary Anne (Lisa Jane Persky), who uses humor to undermine his authority and call him out on his crap. My favorite scene is the one in which she jokingly claims to be pregnant, describing the father, "Rufus", as  a negro, intellectual, pacifist homosexual: "You'll get to like him after awhile, Dad. Dwarfs are easy to like, especially when they're cross-eyed!" Bull is not amused.

Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies. The role that won him an Oscar. Mac is a once famous country star who destroyed his life with hard drinking and hard living. He gets a second chance in life when he meets a young widow with an eight year old son, quitting drinking and finding Jesus. Which is all very nice for him, but what about the people he left behind? He hasn't had contact with his teenage daughter, Sue Ann (Ellen Barkin) in many, many years, and when she tries to re-connect with him, he barely makes any effort. He won't even sing the song he sang to her when she was a child--her one fond memory of him--he pretends not to remember it. (The song in question is "Wings of a Dove", which every country singer knows) Later, we learn the girl has died in an automobile accident. This is heartbreaking for us, and we only saw her for a few minutes. But Mac doesn't seem to register any grief about it. Which is not the case for his ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley). In a movie where everyone--especially Mac--keeps a tight reign on their emotions, Dixie wears them on her sleeve. If Mary Ann called out her dad in The Great Santini, Dixie fills that role here. She suffers a breakdown following Sue Ann's death, and, from a hospital bed, lays into Mac like nobody else would. We'd have liked to see her smack him (he used to knock her around, which why they split up). But I guess her words packed enough punch, because by the end of the movie he's finally able to admit how senseless his daughter's death was. Which means that, just maybe, he won't screw up things with his stepson.

Mr. Childers in Sling Blade. He's not the main villain in the film--that would be Dwight Yoakum's scuzzball character Doyle. In fact he's barely in the film. But as the father of this film's protagonist Karl (Billy Bob Thornton), he was an abusive creep, who may even be responsible for his son's brain damage. He's definitely responsible for the death of his second son, who was born prematurely and was, according to Karl, "no bigger than a squirrel". He gave the baby (wrapped in a bloody towel) to Karl (then about six or eight years old) and told him to "get rid of it", which Karl, afraid of disobeying him, does by burying the baby alive.

Euliss "Sonny" Dewey in The Apostle. Sonny arrives in the Bayou of Louisiana to start a new church and preach the Gospel. His natural charisma brings in a lot of followers--he even wins over a construction worker (Billy Bob Thornton) who'd planned on knocking the church down. He also becomes a local celebrity, appearing on the radio.

Oh, did I happen to mention that the reason he's really in Louisiana is to flee a murder charge in Texas? See, after showing up at his kid's little league game, he beat his wife's lover with a baseball bat, leaving him in a coma (he eventually dies), and attempted to drag his wife home (by her hair), scaring the crap out of the kids. He leaves town, dumps his car in the lake, and destroys all evidence of his past life. When his wife hears him on the radio, she notifies the police, who show up at the church during the service. He asks them to wait until it's over, then proceeds to give a long, long sermon (it's like a filibuster) but finally turns himself in.

Judge Joseph Palmer in The Judge. When he becomes the suspect in a hit and run accident, he seeks the help of his attorney son Hank (Robert Downey, Jr.). One problem: Hank is reluctant to take the case, because he's convinced the judge is guilty. That probably tells you all you need to know about him. (Although Hank does change his mind once he finds out the attorney appointed to his father is Dax Shepherd.)

Robert Duvall is now 88 years old but as far as I know, isn't retiring. He could probably keep playing terrible dads when he's 100. I'm rather looking forward to seeing him, at 100, bouncing a basketball off his 80 year old son's head.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!


Carl said...

You make me want to binge watch Riverdale.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Amusingly enough, I am going to see Father John Misty open for Jason Isbell tonight....

Anonymous said...

ANNTI sez...

Given the roles described, is it ironic that Duvall is one of teh F.U.'s favorite actors, or just pitiful? 'Cause, y'know, the *cowboy* movies make up for all of the evil shit, right?