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Pondering pernicious Papas: Jasper Hadley, Wade Hunnicut, Joey LaMotta, and others

If a puny man falls in the middle of a mansion, does anybody hear?

Written on the Wind: Phallus, anyone?
Written on the Wind: Phallus, anyone?

The arrival of Father’s Day started me pondering on pernicious Papas, and I wound up with five movie dads who probably didn’t get cards.

5) Jasper Hadley in Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956)

“A great man! A giant of a man!” To hear his family speak, you’d half expect Amazing Colossal Man Glenn Langan to walk in the room with Jonas Salk in hand. But instead of a towering titan, Sirk portrays Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith) as an emaciated mouse. The inheritors to his throne are an impotent lush (Robert Stack) and a slutty daughter (Dorothy Malone) who makes Mitchum’s “sand hill tacky” in Home from the Hill look like Amanda Bynes pre-conservatorship. Halfway through the picture, Old Man Hadley’s ticker gives out, forcing him to take a fatal plunge down the family’s grand staircase. If a puny man falls in the middle of a mansion, does anybody hear? And how’s this for a touch of patroclinous trivia: milquetoast Keith is the real life sire of the strapping Brian Keith, who played dad to Hayley Mills split-screen siblings in The Parent Trap, as well as “Uncle Bill” to Buff, Jody, and Sissy in TV’s Family Affair.

4) Wade Hunnicutt in Vincente Minnelli’s Home From the Hill (1960)

There were two venal Minnelli patriarchs to choose from, neither of which had Liz Taylor as their on-screen daughter. Arthur Kennedy is pure scum in Some Came Running. On the surface he’s Parkman, Indiana’s #1 son, but his heart pumps silt. Still, as much as he sickens me (in a good way), he is no match for Robert Mitchum in Home From the Hill. Minnelli asks us to accept George Hamilton in the role of Robert Mitchum’s son. (And I goof on Spielberg’s inability to suspend disbelief!) It’s great to watch Mitchum belittle the ever-fledgling actor, but all roads lead to Bob’s heated moment of comeuppance. Eighty-seven minutes in, Hamilton enters dad’s study/arsenal to make it known that he’s hip to the fact that one of the ranch hands is his half-brother. Cool Bob easily deflects the news. After all, he sowed some oats with a tramp that gave birth by the side of a ditch. Hamilton follows with the line of his career: “She must have been some pig to crawl into bed with you.” Thawing momentarily, Bob stammers, “We’ll just let that...We’ll just let that pass in the heat of the moment.” Flustered Mitchum seldom appears on the menu. When it does, savor it!

3) Joey LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980)

Jake (Robert De Niro) is by no means Judge Hardy, but the father of the year award goes to the younger LaMotta brother. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough quality screen time devoted to Joey (Joe Pesci) and his kids, but the thirty seconds we do get to spend around the family dinner table is magic. Joey points a knife at his young son and threatens, “If I see you put your hand in the plate one more time I’m gonna’ stab you with this knife. You hear me?” We never learn if Joey, Jr. got the message, for just as his dad prepare to bludgeon the tot with a butter knife, Uncle Jake saves the day by bursting into the house and putting his brother’s head through a glass door. Every day is Father’s Day in the LaMotta household, ya’ son of a bitch!

2) “The Lieutenant” in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992)

If you haven’t already, go back and study the dialogue during the opening car ride. We know nothing about “The Lieutenant” (Harvey Keitel), and it’s important that Ferrara and screenwriter Nick St. John make a solid first impression. “The Lieutenant” and his two young sons (both sporting blazers that scream parochial school) make a hurried dash for the car. The boys whine that they were late because Aunt Wendy keeps hogging the bathroom. Turning on them as though they were refugees from Police Academy 5, Harvey barks, “Hey -- Listen to me. I’m the boss, not Aunt Wendy. When it’s your turn to use the bathroom, you tell Aunt Wendy to get the f--k out of the bathroom! What are you, men or mice?...Call me. I’ll throw her the f--k out!”

1) The Butcher in Gaspar Noe’s I Stand Alone (1998)

Part of the reason I adore this movie is because I have always believed it to be a revisionist version of Taxi Driver, only darker. This baby takes everything Travis has to give, pumps up realism — when The Butcher (Philippe Nahon) goes to a porn theater, you’ll witness more than some R-rating-friendly shadows dancing on the screen — and never stops moving towards its ghastly conclusion(s). Everybody steals from Scorsese, but few are capable of making it their own, thereby demonstrating an advanced state of cinematic enlightenment. Transplant Travis to France and have him hack meat instead of fares. After pulling a Joe Kennedy by throwing his daughter in a mental institution, The Butcher returns to Paris to find her. Alone in a hotel room with his daughter, the director provides his audience with two alternate conclusions. Gaspar Noé has yet to top this. Rent the DVD and play along at home.

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Written on the Wind: Phallus, anyone?
Written on the Wind: Phallus, anyone?

The arrival of Father’s Day started me pondering on pernicious Papas, and I wound up with five movie dads who probably didn’t get cards.

5) Jasper Hadley in Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956)

“A great man! A giant of a man!” To hear his family speak, you’d half expect Amazing Colossal Man Glenn Langan to walk in the room with Jonas Salk in hand. But instead of a towering titan, Sirk portrays Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith) as an emaciated mouse. The inheritors to his throne are an impotent lush (Robert Stack) and a slutty daughter (Dorothy Malone) who makes Mitchum’s “sand hill tacky” in Home from the Hill look like Amanda Bynes pre-conservatorship. Halfway through the picture, Old Man Hadley’s ticker gives out, forcing him to take a fatal plunge down the family’s grand staircase. If a puny man falls in the middle of a mansion, does anybody hear? And how’s this for a touch of patroclinous trivia: milquetoast Keith is the real life sire of the strapping Brian Keith, who played dad to Hayley Mills split-screen siblings in The Parent Trap, as well as “Uncle Bill” to Buff, Jody, and Sissy in TV’s Family Affair.

4) Wade Hunnicutt in Vincente Minnelli’s Home From the Hill (1960)

There were two venal Minnelli patriarchs to choose from, neither of which had Liz Taylor as their on-screen daughter. Arthur Kennedy is pure scum in Some Came Running. On the surface he’s Parkman, Indiana’s #1 son, but his heart pumps silt. Still, as much as he sickens me (in a good way), he is no match for Robert Mitchum in Home From the Hill. Minnelli asks us to accept George Hamilton in the role of Robert Mitchum’s son. (And I goof on Spielberg’s inability to suspend disbelief!) It’s great to watch Mitchum belittle the ever-fledgling actor, but all roads lead to Bob’s heated moment of comeuppance. Eighty-seven minutes in, Hamilton enters dad’s study/arsenal to make it known that he’s hip to the fact that one of the ranch hands is his half-brother. Cool Bob easily deflects the news. After all, he sowed some oats with a tramp that gave birth by the side of a ditch. Hamilton follows with the line of his career: “She must have been some pig to crawl into bed with you.” Thawing momentarily, Bob stammers, “We’ll just let that...We’ll just let that pass in the heat of the moment.” Flustered Mitchum seldom appears on the menu. When it does, savor it!

3) Joey LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980)

Jake (Robert De Niro) is by no means Judge Hardy, but the father of the year award goes to the younger LaMotta brother. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough quality screen time devoted to Joey (Joe Pesci) and his kids, but the thirty seconds we do get to spend around the family dinner table is magic. Joey points a knife at his young son and threatens, “If I see you put your hand in the plate one more time I’m gonna’ stab you with this knife. You hear me?” We never learn if Joey, Jr. got the message, for just as his dad prepare to bludgeon the tot with a butter knife, Uncle Jake saves the day by bursting into the house and putting his brother’s head through a glass door. Every day is Father’s Day in the LaMotta household, ya’ son of a bitch!

2) “The Lieutenant” in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992)

If you haven’t already, go back and study the dialogue during the opening car ride. We know nothing about “The Lieutenant” (Harvey Keitel), and it’s important that Ferrara and screenwriter Nick St. John make a solid first impression. “The Lieutenant” and his two young sons (both sporting blazers that scream parochial school) make a hurried dash for the car. The boys whine that they were late because Aunt Wendy keeps hogging the bathroom. Turning on them as though they were refugees from Police Academy 5, Harvey barks, “Hey -- Listen to me. I’m the boss, not Aunt Wendy. When it’s your turn to use the bathroom, you tell Aunt Wendy to get the f--k out of the bathroom! What are you, men or mice?...Call me. I’ll throw her the f--k out!”

1) The Butcher in Gaspar Noe’s I Stand Alone (1998)

Part of the reason I adore this movie is because I have always believed it to be a revisionist version of Taxi Driver, only darker. This baby takes everything Travis has to give, pumps up realism — when The Butcher (Philippe Nahon) goes to a porn theater, you’ll witness more than some R-rating-friendly shadows dancing on the screen — and never stops moving towards its ghastly conclusion(s). Everybody steals from Scorsese, but few are capable of making it their own, thereby demonstrating an advanced state of cinematic enlightenment. Transplant Travis to France and have him hack meat instead of fares. After pulling a Joe Kennedy by throwing his daughter in a mental institution, The Butcher returns to Paris to find her. Alone in a hotel room with his daughter, the director provides his audience with two alternate conclusions. Gaspar Noé has yet to top this. Rent the DVD and play along at home.

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