A few years ago I ran a list of the five worst cinematic parents of all time: John Huston‘s Noah Cross from Chinatown, Daniel Day Lewis‘s Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood, Chris Walken’s Brad Whitewood from At Close Range, Faye Dunaway‘s Joan Crawford in Mommmie Dearest and Marion Lorne‘s Mrs. Antony (mother of Robert Walker‘s Bruno) in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Strangers on a Train.
And then a real motherfucker of a dad I hadn’t thought of in a long time popped into my head: Karl Malden‘s oppressively demanding John Piersall, the father of Tony Perkins‘ Jim Piersall, in Robert Mulligan‘s Fear Strikes Out (’57).
I decided to stream an HD version the other night on Amazon, in part because I wanted to savor the detail of a black-and-white film shot in VistaVision. It looked pretty great, but God, Malden played such a fiend I couldn’t believe it. His son’s glories and accomplishments were never enough. The film throws a semi-happy gloss on their relationship at the end, but Malden is the kind of papa you need to keep at a certain distance until he’s dead.
But you know what? The Malden-Perkins relationship is almost exactly the kind of thing I have going on with the little man in my chest who’s never fully satisfied with anything good that I do. He’s always saying “okay, that’s pretty good but don’t get smug and coast on your laurels. You could probably do a little better than you’ve done so far, as you know. Because while you have talent and drive, you could use a bit more of each. And what about tomorrow’s agenda? And don’t forget to buy groceries and call the cleaning lady,” etc.
Please post your favorite dads and moms. The deceased Mrs. Bates in Psycho. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate and All Fall Down, for sure. Harrison Ford in The Mosquito Coast. Who else?