You may have noticed I quit numbering these installments – See "From Marx Brothers to Superman". I plan to remove the numbers off of the previous ones as they are about as useful as wings are for flying on a chicken – added decoration but of little practical value.

Patriot cover - e.wikipedia.orgBut I also plan to continue to share my thoughts on the continuing theme of the Father Figure. This time as it relates to – The Patriot. SPOILERS!!! —– Substantial SPOILERS!!!

In the almost ubiquitously famous The Patriot, (forgive the refresher), the widowed Benjamin Martin raises his seven children on a farm just before the outbreak of hostilities between the British crown and her colonies. The mother is long deceased by the opening credits. Despite this, the family thrives. The children are happy, content, well educated, respectful and confident. The farm is successful and the people that work there respected and well treated.

When the war devastatingly intrudes into the family and their home, the children rise to meet the crushingly unreasonable demands that are thrust upon them.

Gibson burning house - writeandsleep.comAs the home burns behind them, one brother hauled off to face summary execution, and another brother lies shot dead at their feet, Benjamin tells his 13 year old daughter, Margaret, to take her two younger siblings into the woods. That if he and the two oldest remaining boys are not back by dark she is to "head for Aunt Charlotte’s". Almost 20 miles away from any help, on foot, entrusted with two small children, with dark encroaching and terrible people about, Margaret, while desperately frightened looks trustingly into her father’s eyes and he confidently knows she will carry out what MUST be done. He takes his two sons, Samuel and Nathan, little more than children themselves, into a fire fight to save the oldest son from hanging.

Trevor-in-The-Patriot-trevor-morgan-22817249-853-480Together the father and sons take on and defeat 20 British soldiers. Now obviously the Dad, veteran warrior, kills most, but the boys – about 13 and 11 – obey their father’s orders without question. They follow and obey him, even as they are horrified, even traumatized, by what they must do.

These are children who have an indomitable bond with their father. Gibson and girl side view - paradrasi.grThey have faith in him because he has ALWAYS been a strong leader, a good Dad, and a protector for them. And they survive against tremendous odds because of it.

The-Patriot-mika-boorem-24695250[1] - CopyCharlotte (Joely Richardson) – while brave and resourceful – when faced later in the movie with a similar confrontation – wisely —- grabs the children and runs. Obviously this is a movie but nary a movie goer questioned the credibility of Martin's feat – and notably the film was based roughly ON a combination of real life historical figures: Francis Marion, Elijah Clarke, Daniel Morgan, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter.

AND it is ALSO noteworthy that the main character of this awesome and inspirational story of bravery, patriotism, loyalty, devotion, familial bonds, and even self-recrimination to redemption is —– a man. More particularly a father.

One of my all time favorite lines in the movie is when Benjamin's oldest son, Gabriel, played by the late and wonderful Heath Ledger insists, against his father's command, on returning to his regiment despite the aforesaid devastating death of his brother, burning of their home and near execution. Gabriel challenges Benjamin: "I am not a child!" to which Benjamin roars in frustration: "You're MY child!"  I admit to having used this on my own children more than once to rather good effect.

That one sentence says it all: authority, conviction and — commitment. You can retire from your firm, you might retire from being a doctor or a lawyer, we will all eventually be retired from life, and you MIGHT even – more dramatically – retire from the Marines. But you can never – EVER – retire from parenthood. You might be a good parent, a bad parent, an absent parent or even a deceased parent, but once a parent, ALWAYS a parent (apologies TO the Marines).  And Benjamin knows this, understands it to his core being. And when Gabriel leaves anyway, Benjamin leaves his younger remaining children in the care and relative safety of Charlotte to go after his one wandering sheep – Gabriel. And this decision propels us through the rest of the movie.Gibson Ledger

The whole movie is fabulous. We watch, cheer during and cry over it every July 4th. But, to me, that one line sums up the motivation and character of Benjamin Martin: a brave soldier, warrior champion, leader among men, successful business man, loyal friend, patriotic American founder, legend. mel_flag[1]But his defining feature is that fact that he is —- a father.Gibson and children Patriot

Photo credits:,,,, The-Patriot-mika-boorem-246952501,,,


From Marx Brothers to Superman

5 Marx Brothers 5 Supermen

You ever watch those old Marx Brothers movies? Groucho, Chico, Harpo. They’re wonderful. Slapstick and droll, filmed in black and white but technicolor in scintillating classic humor, these guys were friends, colleagues, costars, collaborators, comedians and — well, brothers. The family of five (Zeppo was a straight man in a few) and Gummo who worked with the others on stage but never made it to the movies, started together in vaudeville as the Singing Nightingales. Groucho actually aspired to be a doctor, but there was no money for that so became an entertainer. Known as Groucho throughout the world, instantly recognizable for his mustache and ever present cigar, his real name was Julius and he was the head, on screen and off,  of this raucous bunch of never-aging hooligans. And, while Groucho’s on screen persona was not much of a sterling example of fatherhood in the conventional sense, Groucho did – much like Oddball’s modified tanks in the quirky World War II dramedy Kelly’s Heroes – manage to get them OUT of trouble at least as fast as he got them INto it.

4 Marx BrothersChico (whose real name, for the record, was Leonard), always featured in his pork pie hat, played the piano — astonishingly well, and humorously. He employed what I can only describe as finger gymnastics. He’d run his hand along the keys, then point and stab at another note, make his hands look all floppy. Yet the music came out beautifully. Chico played the piano by playing WITH the piano. It was almost like a one man musical comedy magic act. If a piano was a ventriloquist’s dummy, Chico was the ventriloquist.

Animal Crackers coverBut there was one scene in Animal Crackers that I always found especially charming, and unusually subdued, for a Marx Brothers’ routine. Chico performs a party recital of “Catch a Falling Star” wherein he interjects an interlude after the first line which comes back around to the initial musical line – so he plays it in a loop.Animal Crackers - Groucho Chico Harpo It’s a very funny scene as you watch the audience – primarily consisting of Groucho front and center with the indomitable and ubiquitous Margaret Dumont (who, it was said, rarely understood Groucho’s jokes) at his side – become progressively more bored and annoyed at the seemingly endless cycle of this repeating banal ditty.

GROUCHO: Say — if you get near a song, play it.

CHICO: I can’t think of the finish.

GROUCHO: That’s strange – and I can’t think of anything else. (Even Margaret Dumont grinned at that one.)

CHICO: You know what I think – I think I went past it.

GROUCHO: Well if you come around again, jump off.

CHICO: I once kept this up for three days.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I’ve kept the series I entitled Back to the Father running for exactly ten times the time Chico claimed to have once been stuck on that musical phrase — one month today – kind of an anniversary.

Well, I know how Chico felt. I started the Back to the Father series thinking it would be a one or two part series, but cannot think of a way to finish it. Thing is – there are more examples of Hollywood’s instinctive, though denied, avowal of the irreplaceability of the father or strong father-figure in the home than even I thought there were. And I enjoy finding them. So I have decided to randomly just continue on that theme and point them up when I find ones that I find particularly appealing.

Jar-el with Kal-elJar-el with Kal-el - Crow

So in keeping with that promise I bring you —- SUPERMAN! Remade about a gazillion times, from its inception as a comic book to novels, movies, cartoons, this Man of Steel has been an American iconic since the publication of the first comic book in June 1938. Comic book Jar-el familyAnd in all of the manifestations of Superman, from print to film, from the stories starring TVs George ReevesGeorge Reeves to film’s Chris Reeves SupermanChris Reeves (the BEST!!!) to the most recent inception of Cavill supermanHenry Cavill, these Supermen’s father, Jar-el Family - Crow Jar-el Family - BrandoJor-el, is the one who must make the decision to send Kal-el (Superman) off to Earth. It is Jor-el who the one who makes the hard choice to send his son away to save his life and does so, not only for his son’s sake, but for the betterment of a lesser culture – mankind.

The mother, understandably, does not want to let her child go but concedes to  her husband’s wisdom: to sacrifice their lives to protect the life of their son. In addition, it is not the mother’s consciousness which is sent to teach, guard and mentor the famous Kryptonian survivor,  it is the father’s. Brando - Jor-el computerGranted this is recognized in the funny animated How Man of Steel Should Have Ended How Man of Steel should have endedbut it’s never really questioned. Again, for a good reason. because, while a mom is nice to have around – a son needs a father to become a Superman.Jor-el - Crow

I’ll randomly throw in more from time to time, because, unlike Chico, I don’t WANT to think of a finish.


Saving Grace DVD coverOld DVD cover Saving Grace

I like to share movies that likely no one in the solar system other than me remembers. A New Leaf is one of those rarified films which are hard to get but very much worth the effort. Another is Saving Grace with Tom Conti.

There are a lot of movies with the name of Saving Grace: from a 17 minute English short about two men romancing a woman named Grace to a kidnap/horror movie about a hospital janitor obsessed with a junkie. I have seen neither of these films and don’t plan to.

No, the movie to which I am now referring is the 1986 remarkably charming dramedy starring the brilliant but little known Tom Conti. (Though you MIGHT remember him as Christian Bale’s improvisate chiropractor in The Dark Knight Rises.) Conti cut his teeth and has mostly sustained his career in the theater but made a permanent mark on film in the ’80’s co-starring with none other than David Bowie in the unusual war film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence as well as the very dark and odd ball love story Reuben, Reuben.  Son of a Catholic Italian family, endearingly he has been married only once and to the same woman, Kara Wilson,  since 1967.Conti and Wilson youngConti and Wilson old  While an actor’s personal life often has nothing to do with whom or what they represent when they work, I find his background relevant in this case as he portrays the Pope. Not any real life pope in particular but a fictional one, so in a way his performance could be seen to represent all popes.

I love this movie. Conti plays a very young priest who is elected, to his own surprise and some dismay, to the papacy.Cardinal Leo getting elected Pope Leo He becomes Pope Leo XIV. However, while dressed appropriately for engaging in the past time that helps alleviate the stresses of his office, gardening, Pope Leo accidentally manages to get himself locked out of the Vatican and away from the protectively intrusive eyes of his bodyguards, assistants, and fellow clergy. He then decides to do a Henry V.

If you remember from any Shakespeare class, Henry V is about the English King who invades France. The night of the fateful battle he dons the clothes of a common soldier and walks about the camp to assess the level of enthusiasm and patriotic temperature of his troops.

Pope Leo w childrenPope Leo, remembering the pleas of a little girl entreating on behalf of her small  village during one of his Papal audiences, decides to visit the little girl’s village and provide what assistance he can as a good old parish priest.Leo w girl It is in this little village that he falls in love again with the reasons he became a priest. Ergo, why I titled this post as a love story. It is a beautiful love story between a man and his faith, a priest and his congregation, and ultimately a Pope and his worldwide flock. By reaffirming the first he is able to renew the latter and the entire world is made a better place by Leo’s interaction with this small seemingly unimportant unassuming village.

Pope Leo w villagerChildren Saving GraceLeo w woman

The subsequent story is gentle, funny and heart breaking as Leo reconnects with some of the most humble of his flock, while his colleagues at the Vatican desperately search for him and simultaneously divert attention to the fact the Pope is  ….. well… missing!! nuns Saving GraceLeo's colleagues

This is a very one-off movie, unique in its perspective on one man’s search for renewed spiritual inspiration. It’s also a little hard to find. Not as difficult as A New Leaf, as you can buy Saving Grace on DVD through But be careful you are choosing the correct one “Saving Grace”, as I warned above there are a number of movies with the same name. Or you can watch it in pieces on

B&W Saving Grace

Faithful to Catholic teaching, highly respectful of the church and the priesthood, this film is appropriate for all ages. HOWEVER, as always, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept this mission…I mean film, you should watch it yourself first before showing it to any members of your family you think vulnerable or sensitive.Leo and girl on bridge B&W

Photo Credits in order:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,