My dad introduced me to James Bond. Even though Roger Moore was my first Bond, to me Sean Connery will always be the best. Once I saw Live and Let Die, my dad took me to the movies as they were re-released: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Connery played 007 in all but the last, and each movie was a way for us to, well, bond.
The other day, I was thinking about father/child movie experiences. What are some of the movies that bring fathers and their kids together, or that depict their relationship really well? Here are five:
Has anybody out there not crumbled at the end of Field of Dreams (1989)? I sure did, and do did my dad. It’s one of those great movies that seem designed from the get-go to tug at a certain kind of heartstring, the one tethered between boys and their dads.
Kevin Costner stars as Ray Kinsella, who hears a voice in his Iowa cornfield. He feels compelled to build a baseball field right there in the middle of his crop, unsure why. Add James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster and even a young Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson, and you get an emotional brew that’s decidedly masculine even through the tears. James Horner’s Americana score ups the sap factor, but it’s brilliant nonetheless—and the ending jerks more tears than you can count.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) starred Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep as Manhattan couple Ted and Joanna Kramer. One day, out of the blue, Joanna leaves Ted and their young son, forcing Ted to dad up.
Inevitably, Joanna decides she wants custody of her son, and there’s a custody hearing. When Hoffman delivers Ted’s monologue about who makes a better parent, asking why it’s automatically the mother even if she’s not there, it’s classic, unforgettable drama. And soon after, when Ted and his son spend what they think is their last morning together, just making breakfast, it’s shattering. This is a movie about the power of fatherhood even in the hurricane of divorce, how dads and their kids have a bond even our culture sometimes doesn’t really understand.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) is a musical about a British inventor and his family. Based on a non-Bond novel by Ian Fleming, Chitty is all about a dad who inspires his kids with inventive storytelling and an expansive imagination. Most people think the flying car is the movie’s miracle, but the real miracle is Dick Van Dyke, who brings an extraordinary humanity to his role as inventor Caracticus Potts. There’s a wide-eyed innocence to him, even as he struggles to make ends meet while also making his young son and daughter smile.
The movie, at its heart, is a journey. Van Dyke’s magical motorcar, the envy of the film’s villain (who has banned children from his small nation), is the catalyst for love, the physical embodiment of one man’s family and the power of dreams.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) stars Harrison Ford as Indiana and Sean Connery as his dad Henry, a casting idea that allowed director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas to literally make James Bond the father of Indiana Jones.
The movie is filled with special effects and Holy Grail lore, and its action set pieces are wonderfully staged and filmed, accompanied by a rousing, emotional John Williams score. But the best bits are when Ford and Connery go at it, one-upping each other over a love interest, archeological know-how, and assorted feats of derring do. Each man holds his own, earning the new-found respect of the other. This is a movie about a father/son relationship gone sour—and the holiest grail of all, its mending and rediscovery.
Finally, there’s Fiddler on the Roof (1971). Starring Topol as Tevye, the put-upon father of three girls in a Jewish village in Soviet Russia, Fiddler isn’t just a Jewish musical. Once the opening number, “Tradition,” is done, the movie settles down a bit, essaying the trials and tribulations of a father who’s learning (the hard way) that each of his daughters has a mind of her own.
All Tevye wants is for each to marry well, knowing that if he were a rich man that might not be such a hard thing to manage. But none wants to marry for the better situation Tevye craves for them. Each in her own way wants to marry for love—and insists upon it even as Tevye’s own traditions fall by the wayside. Heartbreaking and uplifting, Fiddler understands that sometimes the best thing a dad can do is to see his kids for who they are, recognizing that their own dreams must, in the end, trump his own.