By Special WO'C Patriarchy Correspondent, Bill S.
Last month I wrote a Mother's Day column paying tribute to the worst movie moms ever. Thanks to some helpful suggestions from readers, I will be present a revised, expanded edition next Mother's Day. Something to look forward to. For somebody.
But today is Father's Day, so it's time to look at terrible movie Dads. And a few TV ones as well. Feel free to suggest additional candidates.
DR. AUSTIN SLOPER (Ralph Richardson) in The Heiress (1949). Convincing his daughter she's a homely, undateable loser is awful enough. That she happens to look like Olivia DeHaviland makes it just that much worse.
LUCAS CROSS (Arthur Kennedy) in Peyton Place (1957). Guilty of, as his daughter's doctor puts it, "the worst kind of child abuse".
MARVIN'S DAD (Malcolm Atterbury) in High School Big Shot (1959). Allow me to offer this quote from Frank Coniff, taken from The Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, which pretty well sums him up:
"There is one scene that is just about the most depressing moment in any movie I've ever seen. It's the scene where his deadbeat dad asks the kid if he'll split his last five dollars with him. Now, both father and son can each got out on two-dollar-and-fifty-cent dates with gals they really want to impress."
THE FATHER OF Rosemary's Baby (1968). For obvious reasons.
BILL COMPTON (Dennis Patrick) in Joe (1970). Not to be confused with the True Blood character. Bill's actions are motivated by his love for his daughter. But since those actions included beating her scumbag boyfriend to death, and then enlisting the help of a psychopath to track her down, he's not gonna be getting a "World's Best Dad" mug anytime soon. Not from her anyway.
NOAH CROSS (John Huston) in Chinatown (1974). No relation to Lucas (see above) although some of his crimes were the same. But whereas Lucas was a white-trash loser who eventually gets what he deserves, Noah's a rich asshole who gets away with everything.
"BULL" MEECHUM (Robert Duvall) in The Great Santini (1979). He was racist, sexist, and homophobic, and those were his GOOD points. He makes the list just for that basketball scene with son Ben (Michael O'Keefe, who was less tightly wound in Caddyshack...probably because the men in that film were better role models.)
JERRY BLAKE (Terry O'Quinn) in The Stepfather (1987). Hey, all he wanted was the perfect family. So he has to kill a few people in the process. You can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs.
KING EDWARD I (Patrick McGoohan) in Braveheart (1995). In Mel Gibson's historical epic, most notable for its historical inaccuracies, Edward is depicted as a psycho who inflicts countless acts of abuse on his son Edward II, hitting a low point when he pushes the prince's gay lover out of a window to his death. This didn't really happen, but hey, it was good for a laugh from the audience, wasn't it? (As you may have guessed, I'm not a fan of the film. I'd rate High School Big Shot higher)
FRANK FITTS (Chris Cooper) in American Beauty (1999). Who'd have guessed that a man who rails against gays so much could turn out to be a raging closet case? Only people who've heard of Ted Haggard, George Rekers, etc.
ROYAL TENENBAUM (Gene Hackman) in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). Very often when parents get divorced, kids feel responsible, but, as Royal explains to son Richie, "When you have children, certain sacrifices have to be made, but heavens, no." There, now doesn't that make you feel better, kid?
ADAM & FENTON'S DAD (Bill Paxton) in Frailty (2001). A religeos fanatic/serial killer just isn't a good role model for children.
Worst TV Dads:
HOMER SIMPSON (Dan Castellenata) on The Simpsons. Strangling your son's not an approved parenting technique.
PETER GRIFFIN (Seth McFarlane) on Family Guy . Makes Homer look like Atticus Finch.
TONY SOPRANO (James Gandolfini) of The Sopranos. For obvious reasons.
FRANK REYNOLDS (Danny DeVito) on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. "Insurance? I canceled that shit when you were nine!"
EVERYBODY'S DAD on Lost. Just about all the characters had a dad who was, in one way or another, completely effed up. Whose was the worst? Jack and Claire's? Sawyers? Locke's? Ben's? Ben's daughter? It's hard to pick.
In any case, Happy Father's Day to any dad reading this. Take some comfort in knowing that, however much you may think you've screwed up...at least you're not one of these guys. I hope.
Great list, Bill. May I suggest the addition of Dwight Hansen (Robert De Niro) in This Boy's Life?
I can't believe I forgot the dad in "The Shining"! That's a HUGE oversight!
Wow, a whole buncha nasty movies that you bravely watched, Bill S., so I won't have to.
However - and I do truly hate to be obvious - there's the little matter of Charles Laughton in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street"...
Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) of Night of the Hunter, with respect to his adopted children. Does this count?
Also, I read your column more than once because I couldn't believe you'd left out Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) of Twin Peaks. Nope, still looks like you missed him.
Well, if The Stepfather counts, I believe Pastor Mitchum does. (Great, now I've got "Leaning On The Everlasting Arm" stuck in my head. I'm going to have some interesting dreams tonight.)
Actually, L'il, with the exception of "Braveheart", which I thought was overrated, and "High School Big Shot", which I saw on "MST3K", those are all quality films. "The Heiress" and "Chinatown" are both truly great films, and the rest have their merits. "Peyton Place" is usually dismissed as campy, but it's actually a solid drama, and the rape storyline is handled with surprising maturity-Selena Cross is the most sympathetic charector in the film. And while I would want Bull Meechum as MY dad, he is a great character. And I purposely excluded the father from "Unhappily Ever After", because, although he makes my skin crawl, I hate the show with every fiber of my being.
Scott- DeNiro's charecter in "This Boy's Life" is also a stepdad. And I included Frank Reynolds even though it's revealed on the show that he isn't the biological father of Dennis and Dee, because he raised them, and, in the words of their bio dad, "Turned them into animals, into monsters."
Oops-ONE typo and it's a doozy: I WOULDN'T want Bull Meechum as my dad.
your comments are always so witty and interesting I love it when you are printed sometimes I wonder how you remember all the things you do......but your dad was like that too
I would say that the father of Connie Corleone's baby in Godfather I was pretty bad, though he was, um, prevented from contributing much more than a Y chromosome.
Every dad that Tom Cruise's character ever had in every movie he was in, most of whom never made it to the screen and were just vague character motivation devices.
Bill S., I'm not slagging the movies' quality - by "nasty" I mean the kind that stays with me in a distressing way for too long afterwards. There are all kinds of good art I avoid for that reason. It's because I'm so sensitive, y'see.
Actually, I have seen several of them. Saw "Peyton Place" when I was a young teen (surprised they let me and my age-cohort into the theater, now that I think about it). Oh, the stink there was about that novel when it came out! Partly because it was supposedly a roman a clef about the town where the author lived, IIRC.
I would like to add a Bad Dad to this list:
Richard Egan who played Sandra Dee's dad in A Summer Place:
Molly(Sandra Dee): Daddy, Mother says I bounce when I walk. Do I? Do I?
Richard Egan(Daddy) Heh, heh, heh. In a pleasant and unobjectionable way.
All together now! EWWWWWWWWWWWWWW
I've never seen "A Summer Place", and the only thing I know about it really is that swoony theme song. But based on your description, he certainly belongs on the list.
Chris, I have to confess I never saw "Twin Peaks" when it aired, though I'm dimly aware of why Leland belongs on the list. Now that the show's on DVD, I may consider renting it.
Unfortunately I can't find "The Barretts of Wimpole Street". I was actually looking for it recently because I've liked Norma Shearer in many of her other roles-even "Romeo & Juliet"(the filmmakers don't try to pass her off as a 14 year old, they simply omit the line that alludes to Juliet's age.) Actually, Lord Capulet might qualify as a Bad Dad. Not as bad as Claudius in "Hamlet", who, though he's Hamlet's uncle, is also his stepfather.
Yes, please pursue Twin Peaks and Fire Walk with Me in all their glory.
With pie, and coffee!
Nobody mentioned Star Wars? Luke's dad didn't turn his life around until right before his death, revealing himself to be about as scary as the Maytag repairman behind that black mask that made him sound like James Earl Jones in a box culvert.
Harry Dean Stanton as Travis in Paris, Texas was the first one that popped into my mind.
Baby Face? Stanwyck's dad not only runs a still and a speakeasy, he expects his daughter to do the serving and get mauled by the clientele. He also peddles his daughter's ass to influential customers.
Special Mention for Stepdad Joe Gamble (Russell Johnson, eerily attired in the exact same clothes he would years later wear every goddamn day in "Gilligan's Island"), in "The Space Children," for gratuitous drunken child slapping. He paid for that shit, and how.
And a mother mention for another thread that I forgot: Petal Quoyle (Cate Blanchett, a REAL hellion in this one), who did her best to sell her daughter off-- after essentially kidnapping her from her Father-- to an illegal adoption agency to keep herself in Alabama Slammas.
She paid, too.
Uh, Cate's in "The Shipping News."
Good picks all. Hope I remember them for next year's column!
the father in SUMMER PLACE didn't give that creepy laugh you cite to pump up your point. He simply said that so that his daughter would feel the disgust that his witch of a wife so desperately wanted her to feel. Get a clue.
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