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Great TV Dads and Movie Dads You Might Have Overlooked

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Something great resonates when you encounter a compelling¬† father character on TV or in movies. It firms up one’s faith in humanity. But with so many movie and TV dads floating in and out of view, it’s easy to overlook some good ones. In honor of Father’s Day weekend, we look back at a few.

DONALD SUTHERLAND

“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” (2005)

Here’s a fine, fine actor playing a small role with tenderness and care. As the henpecked, mellow patriarch of the Bennet family in Jane Austen’s classic story, Sutherland lets his misty eyes, his sly smile and his lanky limbs work to their full advantage onscreen. Then, at the end of the film, he reveals his complete and utter love for his daughter through a quiet intensity that lingers nicely.

BERNIE MAC

“THE BERNIE MAC SHOW” (2001-06)

There was nothing quiet about the late, great Bernie Mac. Like few other actors, he projected a powerful, coiled up aggressiveness while also allowing his compassion to poke through. On his show, he played a man who takes in his sister’s children, raising them as his own. He often talked directly to “America,” looking straight at the camera, and it worked. You trusted him. You liked him.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN

“KRAMER VS. KRAMER” (1979)

Times and gender roles have changed so much that people forget what an eye-opener “Kramer vs. Kramer” was, with its depiction of a divorce and subsequent child custody fight. Hoffman is his usual, superb self as the father who learns how to be a parent.

CHUCK CONNORS

“THE RIFLEMAN” (1958-63)

Although the show was far from realistic, the father-son relationship at the heart of “The Rifleman” seemed authentically affectionate. Connors played Lucas McCain as a figure of towering strength and real kindness. Plus, he had the coolest rifle ever.

J.K. SIMMONS

“JUNO” (2007)

Simmons is a true craftsman. In “Juno,” he’s a father who helps his teen daughter through an unplanned pregnancy, and he does it with keen humor and gentle exasperation. Good in any type of role, here Simmons offers a physical weariness as counterpoint to the movie’s spry, stylized dialogue.

RONNY COX

“APPLE’S WAY” (1974-75)

This is a prime example of the father as idealist, from a TV show that never quite caught on with viewers. Cox was George Apple, a lawyer who moved his clan from California back to his hometown of Appleton, Iowa. Once there, he inserted himself into just about every free speech and human rights issue his little town encountered. His kids loved this, as you can imagine.

DELROY LINDO

“CROOKLYN” (1994)

Set in Brooklyn in the 1970s, “Crooklyn” featured Lindo as a musician who didn’t quite earn enough money to support his family, but whose sweet nature helped buoy the family during hard times. Lindo expertly shows us the full range of his guy’s flaws and qualities.

ROBERT DeNIRO

“A BRONX TALE” (1993)

DeNiro directed himself as a straight-arrow bus driver in the 1960s, trying mightily to keep his son from falling under the spell of a charismatic gangster. Playing against type, DeNiro gives a tightly controlled performance: tough, but not too tough; good, but not too good. It’s a gem.

MARTIN LANDAU

“EDtv” (1999)

To be sure, Landau’s loopy stepfather is the comic relief in this film. His character is in poor health and often clueless about what’s happening around him. But he gets a dynamite scene near the end of the movie that is gratifying as a nod to the true meaning of fatherhood.

NOAH BEERY JR.

“THE ROCKFORD FILES” (1974-80)

Any “Rockford Files” fan will have a soft spot for Rocky. Beery played him perfectly – no affectation, no ego. His scenes with James Garner had an easy charm and warmth.

MICHAEL TUCKER

“RADIO DAYS” (1987)

There’s a wonderful joke about dads in Woody Allen’s “Radio Days.” Seth Green, who plays Allen as a kid, has no idea what his father, Michael Tucker, actually does for a living. No matter how hard the kid tries to ferret out the information, dad finds a way to change the subject. It’s hilarious, partly because it plays on the mysterious, unknowable quality many fathers have.

ADAM SANDLER

“SPANGLISH” (2004)

I may not be the biggest Adam Sandler fan in the world, but I have to give him his due here. He’s excellent as a doting father in an unhappy marriage. His scenes with Sarah Steele as his teen daughter are beautiful and at times heartbreaking.

HECTOR ELIZONDO

“THE FLAMINGO KID” (1984)

Elizondo is the emotional core of this Matt Dillon comedy about a young man faced with a choice between corrupt wealth and the middle class work ethic, as represented by his family. I love how Elizondo communicates his frustration and hurt feelings without upsetting the comedic balance.

JUDD HIRSCH

“NUMB3RS” (2005-10)

No one matches Hirsch when it comes to the older, intellectually nurturing father character. Here, he invests Alan Eppes with a genuine pride and respect for his adult sons, along with his love and concern.

DAVID MORSE

“CONTACT” (1997)

In the sci-fi adventure “Contact,” Morse gets to play two versions of a father. One is the wise, gentle teacher. The other is the loving, lasting image a father leaves behind.

GENE HACKMAN

“THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS” (2001)

I think this is one of Hackman’s best roles. His character, Royal Tenenbaum, is sneaky, self-absorbed and unhelpful. Yet he’s also an undeniably cool old rascal. The question this film poses for him is whether it’s ever too late to stop being a jerk and start acting like a father.

Now let’s hear your suggestions. Add to The List!

2 Responses »

  1. In the movie A Little Romance, Arthur Hill plays Diane Lane’s current step father and Sally Kellerman’s latest husband. His portrayal of a man watching his marriage slip away, but still wanting to give his step-daughter a chance at something magical is amazing.

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