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Mother’s Day Movies with Great Movie Mothers

Posted on May 6, 2016 at 3:07 pm

For Mother’s Day, share some of these movies featured in my book, 50 Must-See Movies: Mothers.

Claudia Before they went on to co-star in the luminous romance, “The Enchanted Cottage,” Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young played a young married couple in this sweet neglected gem based on the books by Rose Franken.  Claudia and David love each other very much and he finds her innocence very appealing.  But her immaturity leads to many problems.  A neighbor thinks Claudia is flirting with him and without consulting David she impulsively decides to sell their farm.  And she is very dependent on the loving mother she adores but takes for granted.  Claudia’s is about to face two of life’s most demanding challenges – her mother is dying and Claudia and David are going to become parents themselves.  So Claudia’s mother has to find a way to help Claudia grow up.  Watch for: a rare film appearance by the exquisite Broadway star Ina Claire as Claudia’s mother

Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner There are two great mothers in this talky, dated, but still endearing “issue movie” about inter-racial marriage from 1967.  Katharine Hepburn’s real-life niece Katharine Houghton plays her daughter and what Houghton lacks in screen presence and acting experience is less important than the genuine connection and palpable affection between the two of them.  The question may seem quaint now, but as filming was underway, inter-racial marriage was still illegal in 17 states.  The Supreme Court ruled those laws unconstitutional that same year.  Hepburn is electrifying in what she knew would be her final film with her most frequent co-star and real-life great love, Spencer Tracy.  And the distinguished actress Beah Richards is brilliant as the mother of a son who says his father thinks of himself as a “colored man,” while he just thinks of himself as a man.  Watch for: Hepburn’s expression as her daughter describes falling in love

 

Claudine Diahann Carroll was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as a single mother in this ground-breaking 1974 film, one of the first to portray a domestic employee as a real person with her own home and family, and one of the first to provide an honest look at the perverse incentives of the “Great Society” welfare programs.  Claudine is the mother of six who has to keep her work as a housekeeper and her relationship with a genial garbage worker (James Earl Jones) a secret from the social worker because they put at risk the payments she needs for her children.  Watch for: the very romantic bathtub scene

Dear Frankie Emily Mortimer plays Lizzie, the divorced mother of a young deaf son in this heartwarming story set in Scotland.  She is devoted and very protective.  She does not want him to know the truth about his abusive father (the source of his deafness), so she tells him that his father is a merchant seaman.  The letters he receives from all the ports of call full of details about all the places he has been are really written by Lizzie. When the ship comes to their town, she has to find someone to pretend to be his father.  Watch for: Lizzie’s explanation of the reason she writes to Frankie —  “because it’s the only way I can hear his voice”

Imitation of Life This melodrama about two single mothers, one white and one black, who join forces has been filmed twice and both are worth seeing.  The best remembered is the glossy, glamorous 1959 version with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore.  Lora (Turner) and Annie (Moore) are brought together by their daughters, who meet at Coney Island.  Lora, a struggling actress, needs someone to help look after her daughter and Annie needs a job and a place to live.  Annie moves in to be the housekeeper/nanny.  She and Lora have a strong, supportive friendship, though Lora and both girls take Annie for granted.  As the girls grow up, Lora’s daughter is resentful of the time her mother spends on her career and Annie’s daughter resents the racism she confronts even though her skin is so light she can pass for white.  Watch for: the most elaborate funeral scene ever put on film, with a sobbing apology from Annie’s daughter (Susan Kohner)

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies Doris Day stars in this film loosely based on Jean Kerr’s hilarious essays about life as Kate, the wife of a theater critic (David Niven) and mother of four rambunctious boys.  While most of the film’s focus is on the marital strains caused by her husband’s new job and the family’s new home, the scenes of Kate’s interactions with her children are among the highlights.  It is clear that while she tries to be understated about her affection and sometimes frustration, she adores them.  Watch for: Kate’s affectionate interactions with her own mother, played by Spring Byington

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Film History For Your Netflix Queue

Friendly Persuasion

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: This is the story of the Birdwells, a loving Quaker family in the midst of the Civil War. Eliza (Dorothy McGuire), a devout woman, is the moral center of the family. Jess (Gary Cooper) is a thoughtful man, not as strict as Eliza on prohibitions like music and racing his horse, but with a strong commitment to his principles. Their children are Joshua (Anthony Perkins), a sensitive young man who opposes violence but feels that he must join the soldiers; Mattie (Phyllis Love), who falls in love with Gord, a neighbor who is a Union soldier; and Young Jess, a boy who is fascinated with the talk of war and battles.

A Union soldier comes to the Quaker prayer meeting to ask the men to join the army. They tell him that they cannot engage in violence under any circumstances. “We are opposed to slavery, but do not think it right to kill one man to free another.” Even when the soldier points out that this means others will be dying to protect their lives and property, no one will support him.

The Confederate army approaches, and Joshua and Enoch, a freed slave who works on the Birdwell’s farm, decide to join the Union. Eliza does everything she can to keep Joshua from going, even telling him that in doing so he will not only reject what he has learned in church but he will reject her, too. Jess says that Joshua has to make up his own mind. “I’m just his father, Eliza. I’m not his conscience. A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans unless he lives up to his own conscience. I’ve got to give Josh that chance.” Joshua prays for guidance, and leaves to join the army the next morning. At first Eliza won’t respond, but then she runs after him to wish him well.

As the war gets closer, Jess and Eliza refuse to run away from their farm as others are doing. When Josh’s horse comes back without him, Jess goes looking for him. He finds his good friend Sam mortally wounded by a sniper. When the sniper shoots at Jess, too, Jess takes his gun away, but will not harm him; he tells the sniper, “Go on, get! I’ll not harm thee.” Josh is wounded, and deeply upset because he killed a Confederate soldier. Jess brings him home.

In the meantime, the Confederates ride into the farm, and in keeping with her faith, Eliza welcomes them and gives them all her food. But when one of the soldiers goes after her beloved pet goose, she whacks him with the broom, amusing her children and leaving herself disconcerted and embarassed. Jess and Josh return, and the family goes off to church together, to continue to do their best to match their faith to their times.

Discussion: This is an exceptional depiction of a loving family, particularly for the way that Jess and Eliza work together on resolving their conflicts. They listen to each other with enormous respect and deep affection. Jess does his best to go along with Eliza’s stricter views on observance, because in his heart he believes she is right. Nevertheless, he cannot keep himself from trying to have his horse beat Sam’s as they go to church on Sunday, and he decides to buy an organ knowing that she will object. In fact, he doesn’t even tell her about it. She is shocked when it arrives and says that she forbids it, to which he replies mildly, “When thee asks or suggests, I am like putty in thy hands, but when thee forbids, thee is barking up the wrong tree.” Having said that if the organ goes into the house, she will not stay there, she goes off to sleep in the barn. He does not object — but he goes out there to spend the night with her, and they reconcile and find a way to compromise.

All of this provides a counterpoint to more serious questions of faith and conscience. In the beginning, when the Union soldier asks the Quakers if any of them will join him, one man stands up to say that nothing could ever make him fight. Later, when his barn is burned, he is the first to take up a gun. Even Eliza, able to offer hospitality to the same men who may have just been shooting at her son, finds herself overcome when one of them captures her beloved pet goose.

Jess is willing to admit that the answer is not so simple. All he asks is that “the will of God be revealed to us and we be given the strength to follow his will.” He understands the difficulty of finding the right answer for himself and for Joshua. He resolves it for himself in his treatment of the sniper, and he respects Joshua and the issues involved enough to let Joshua make his own choice.

The movie is a rare one in which someone makes a moral choice through prayer, which many families will find worth emphasizing. Josh, who was able to respond without violence to the thugs at the fair, decides that he cannot benefit from risks taken by others unless he is willing to take them, too. He cries in battle, but he shoots.

The issue of how someone committed to non-violence responds to a violent world is thoughtfully raised by this movie.

Questions for Kids:

· How is the religious service in the movie similar or different from what you have experienced?

· How was the faith of the characters tested in this movie? What did they learn from the test?

· How should people who are opposed to violence respond to violence when it is directed against them? When it is directed against others?

Connections: The screenplay was written by Michael Wilson, who received no screen credit because he was blacklisted during the Red Scare. His involvement makes the issues of conscience raised in the book even more poignant. The book on which the movie is based, by Jessamyn West (a Quaker, and a cousin of Richard Nixon) is well worth reading. Cooper faces some of the same issues (and has a Society of Friends bride) in “High Noon.” “Shenandoah,” with Jimmy Stewart as the father of a large family who tries to keep his sons out of the Civil War, raises some of the same themes without the religious context. It later became a successful Broadway musical.

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Based on a book Drama Epic/Historical War

Old Yeller

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: In 1869 Texas, Jim Coates (Fess Parker) says goodbye to his family, as he leaves for three months to sell their cattle. He tells his older son, Travis (Tommy Kirk) to take care of his mother, Katie (Dorothy McGuire) and his younger brother, Arliss (Kevin Corcoran). Travis asks his father to bring him back a horse. His father says that what he needs is a dog, but Travis does not want one. “Not a dog in this world like old Belle was.”

A stray dog comes to their farm and scares the horse, knocking over Travis and knocking down the fence. Travis throws rocks at the dog, saying, “That dog better not come around here while I got a gun.” But the dog comes back and Arliss “claims” him, over Travis’ objections. Later, Old Yeller saves Arliss from a bear. Travis admits, “He’s a heap more dog than I ever figured him for.” Yeller turns out to be an outstanding dog for farming and hunting.

Old Yeller fights a wolf that was about to attack Katie. She insists he be tied up, because the wolf would not have attacked unless he had hydrophobia, and Yeller may have been infected. When Yeller becomes vicious, Travis knows he must shoot him.

Jim returns, as Travis and his friend Elsbeth are burying Old Yeller. Jim tells him that the loss of Yeller is “not a thing you can forget. Maybe not a thing you want to forget…Now and then, for no good reason a man can figure out, life will just haul off and knock him flat. Slam him agin’ the ground so hard it seems like all his insides is busted. It’s not all like that. A lot of it’s mighty fine. You can’t afford to waste the good part worrying about the bad. That makes it all bad…Sayin’ it’s one thing and feelin’ it’s another. I’ll tell you a trick that’s sometimes a big help. Start looking around for something good to take the place of the bad. As a general rule, you can find it.” Jim has brought the horse Travis wanted, but says, “Reckon you ain’t in no shape to take pleasure in him yet.” Travis goes back to the house, where he sees Yeller’s pup, and knows that he won’t replace Old Yeller, but will be as good a friend as his father was.

Discussion: Jim’s talk with Travis is a model of parental wisdom, understanding, and patience. He accepts and validates Travis’ feelings completely, and does not try to minimize or talk him out of them. (Contrast that with Elsbeth, who tries to comfort Travis by encouraging him to “come to like the pup.”) Instead of telling him what to do, he says, “I’ll tell you a trick that’s sometimes a big help,” letting him decide for himself whether to take the advice and, if he does, letting him decide whether this is one of the times that it is a big help or not. By saying that Travis is not “in shape to take pleasure from the horse” yet, Jim is again letting him know that he respects his feelings of loss and sorrow, and that there will be time for him to feel happy about the horse later.

Travis is not just reluctant to adopt Old Yeller at first — he is downright hostile. The reason is his sense of loss over his first dog, Belle. His ability to accept Young Yeller more easily shows how much he has grown up.

This is one of the finest of the early Disney dramas. The fight scenes are exciting and the family scenes are sensitive and evocative. It is a classic of loss, and an excellent way to begin a discussion of those issues.

Questions for Kids:

· Why doesn’t Travis want Old Yeller at first? Why doesn’t he want the pup?

· How does he hurt Elsbeth’s feelings?

· Why does Katie say “No wonder they didn’t want him on no cow drive” about Elsbeth’s father?

· Why did Sanderson trade Old Yeller for the toad and a meal?

· Why did Sanderson say “that’s the way a man talks” when Travis told him that he was a little scared but would take Sanderson’s advice? What made that “manly”?

Connections: McGuire, Kirk, and Corcoran appeared together in “Swiss Family Robinson.”

Activities: Kids who like animal stories may enjoy the book by Fred Gipson, who co-wrote the screenplay.

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Classic Drama Epic/Historical Family Issues For the Whole Family Tragedy
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