In anticipation of Father’s Day, I decided to share my
thoughts on some of my dad’s favorite movies – at least the ones I remember
watching with him over the years. I think his influence is in some small part
the reason I love action movies and westerns. He is a proud Army veteran who
was blessed to survive Vietnam and retain a very positive outlook on life. Beyond
what he taught me every day about doing what you can to help people, speaking
truth to power, and standing up for myself when I am wronged, I could tell from
these movies that he was all about good conquering evil – happy endings for the
heroes, and a cap in the back sides of those who tried to thwart them.
“The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976)
I was barely out of toddlerhood when this movie came out, but thanks to HBO, I must have watched it with my dad at least a half-dozen times, maybe more, over the years. He’s a huge fan of westerns, and we both love this one. It is one of Clint Eastwood’s early directing efforts in which he also stars as the type of mythic gunman of the West we’ve all come to know and love – one who is forced into a life of “kill or be killed” but can’t subdue the good in himself. Josey Wales was flawed and damaged from the violent loss of his home and family, but he had a code that was rooted in the good person he was before his loss. Even as he lashed out against those responsible for his family’s slaughter, in spite of himself, he created his own makeshift family with the forlorn and abused people who crossed his path. It included a former Cherokee chief played by Chief Dan George, a young Native American woman, and a proud family from Kansas that ends up under attack by bandits.
Eastwood knows how to entertain and perpetuate a larger-than-life Western hero status while maintaining the hero’s fallibility. We see Wales shoot down a courageously foolish bounty hunter (“Dying ain’t much of a living, boy.”), but later be cowed by the Kansas family’s matriarch, “Granny,” so that instead of spitting his tobacco in the house, he swallows it. But there’s plenty of action. He has to kill a lot of people (in self-defense mostly) to get to his peace – a peace we’re not sure he ever finds. One of my favorite scenes is when he takes down the bandits who are torturing the proud Kansas family. It begins with a shot of him on his horse in the distance, appearing to be holding up a white flag. You know he’s about to kick some ass, and oddly enough, even though he’s just one man, you sense that the bandits, particularly their leader, can tell they might be in trouble. The flag is actually tied to the end of his rifle, and when the Bad Guy #1 tells him to get off his horse, he lowers that rifle, and you know what happens then. Bad guys down. Good guy prevails.
“Smokey and the Bandit” (1977)
So maybe it’s not the best movie ever made, but if you love fast cars and easy laughs, this is the movie for you, and that’s certainly the case for my dad. You know a movie has influenced you if you go out and buy a car like the one featured in the movie. Yes, my dad owns a 1977 Trans Am – T-top roof, firebird etched on the hood and all. I haven’t seen this movie in many years, but I remember my dad laughing hysterically at Jackie Gleason’s good old boy Sheriff Buford T. Justice every time Burt Reynolds’ Bandit pulled a fast one. Again, this was one I watched with my dad years after its initial release, but even as an adolescent, I admired Sally Field’s independent streak in leaving the wrong guy at the wedding alter. Still I wasn’t so sure she was taking up with the right guy in the Bandit. Oh well … everybody needs an adventure once in a while.
In 1985, director Lawrence Kasdan brought us a traditional western tale about two brothers and two fast friends they make as they come to the small settlement of Silverado to hang out with their sister and her family. The town is run by a corrupt sheriff, and it doesn’t take long for the guys to end up on his bad side – what with them standing up for justice and fair play and that kind of nonsense. It’s a classic western story that ends in a big shoot-out, including a final duel between the main good guy and the main bad guy. But even though it follows the western formula, the characters and the dialogue still manage to pull you into every scene. It has an all-star cast in Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Linda Hunt, Rosanna Arquette, and a young Kevin Costner. If you’re in the mood for good old western fun, check it out.
“Bustin’ Loose” (1981)
Richard Pryor and a school bus full of at-risk kids driving across country with only Cicely Tyson to keep the peace: I’d say that’s a recipe for a little tear-jerking and a lot of laughs. Perhaps Pryor has been funnier than he was in this movie, but he has seldom exhibited more poignance. And even if he has been funnier in other movies, he was funny enough in this one (which with Pryor is funnier than nearly anyone else on the planet). Pryor plays a con man who has violated his probation, but he’s given one more chance to keep his freedom if he takes Tyson and the students from her children’s home in Philadelphia to her farm in Washington. There are fights and frustrations, but eventually they all bond as they run into various obstacles along the way. It may be a little too sentimental for you action buffs, but Pryor should keep you laughing enough to forget about the lack of shoot-outs and fisticuffs. Besides, you tough guys like those happy endings, too. My dad’s a prime example.