Tag Archives: Film History

Eight Moms in the Movies

By Rick Bretz

On this Mother’s Day, let’s look back at the some of the best movie moms as they protect, defend, encourage and stand by their sons and daughters.  As everyone knows, Don’t mess with Mom!

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor

 

1. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in the Terminator (1984) and T2 (1991)

Sarah Connor reloads the assault weapon with one arm as she becomes a one-woman army. She fights Arnold’s terminator first and then a Robert Patrick’s T-1000 shape shifter who keeps on coming like a human Tsunami.  All of this while she fights to keep her son safe so he can lead people into future battles with the machines. What does she get for her troubles? She gets locked up and fed drugs. But, not to worry, she’s been counting pull ups and sit ups and studying how to be the best survivalist ever. The time has come for her to get busy being a Mom when she breaks out.

 

shining

 

2. Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance in The Shining (1980)

Wendy Torrance has to put up with tons of brooding and abuse from Jack Nicholson’s character in this movie. He drags her to a Ski Lodge in the mountains so he can get away to write his next masterpiece and he comes up with “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” In addition, his son sees waves of blood coming from the elevator and repeats the word “REDRUM.’   (Spoiler, but if you haven’t seen it by now…!) She wins in the end because she has spent her days at the isolated getaway figuring out the maze outside the hotel. Moms are always prepared.

 

Clara Thornhill with her son in the elevator as the bad guys surround him.
Clara Thornhill with her son in the elevator as the bad guys surround him.

3. Jessie Royce Landis as Clara Thornhill in North By Northwest (1959)

Clara Thornhill as Roger Thornhill’s mother in Alfred Hitchcock’s cross country thriller plays her part perfectly. She stands by her son although she thinks he is paranoid and a little over-worked. Roger Thornhill, of course, is not imagining anything but Clara’s past history with her son plays into her assessment of his well being at the estate once being released by the court system. The mother sets up the rest of the movie. Jessie Royce Landis was only eight years older than Cary Grant at the time but she succeeds in making us believe she is his mother. Perfect case of standing by your child even if you think he is off his rocker.

 Margaret Wycherly

 4. Margaret Wycherly as Mother York in Sergeant York (1941)

Before Sergeant Alvin York becomes a war hero in World War I, he goes through a process of rehabilitation where he is born again and follows the word of God. He takes this seriously and becomes a conscientious objector because of the commandment “I shalt not kill.” While he was transforming and soul-searching, Mother York stood by him and gave him encouragement. After some long thought while on furlough, he decided it would be wise to go to war with his weapon and save lives by doing his best to end the war early. The decision would have been more difficult if Mother York had not let him decide for himself.

lion in winter

5. Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter (1968)

Being a mother in 1183 had to be tough no matter your status in life. Not many comforts back then. For Queen Eleanor, she had to be a mother while being in imprisoned by King Henry II while he was running around with his mistress whom he wanted to marry. In the movie, although she is imprisoned she holds her own in the verbal sparring department. The dialogue between O’Toole and Hepburn is one of the best movie scenes in history. As a Mother, The Queen knows when to scold and when to support. One of the movie’s best scenes involves Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins’  portraying Prince Richard (The Lion-Hearted). She talks to him as a Mother and not as a Queen.  For Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to Peter O’Toole’s King Henry II, she schemes to control the situation as an aging King Henry struggles to name a successor among his sons.

The-Blind-Side-2009-001

6. Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side (2009)

Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her performance in this film. Based on real events, this movie shows how a Mom with a purpose can change someone’s life. She’s a one woman wrecking crew and won’t stop until people understand. Along the way, she won’t put up with any racism or any other nonsense, even when it comes from gang members. She also knows how to coach and gives her adopted son a great piece of advice during football practice.

Cher-Mask_l

7. Cher as Florence “Rusty” Dennis in Mask (1985)

 Moms don’t have to be perfect. What great moms have in common is that they all defend their children. They also support and encourage when needed. Cher’s performance as “Rusty” shows all her flaws but it also shows her supporting her son “Rocky”, who has a condition that deforms his skull. He looks different from everyone on the outside but is just the same as every other teen who has dreams. Judging someone from the inside and not how they look or by skin color is a lesson that still applies today and still has to be learned by others.

 

 Jane Darwell with Henry Fonda and John Carradine

8. Jane Darwell as Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

 

 Darwell’s performance as Ma Joad holds the movie together. Sure, Henry Fonda gives a great soliloquy at the end of the movie but look who he’s giving it to—his mother. She endures the mid-west dust bowl conditions that takes their loses their livelihood. She packs up the family and their possessions and travels all the way to California for a chance at a better life. Bad luck continues but she continues holding the family together. Fantastic movie and a great performance.

 

 

 

 

Notable Links:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034167/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_37

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089560/?ref_=nv_sr_3

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032551/?ref_=nv_sr_1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapes_of_wrath

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_L._Dennis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craniodiaphyseal_dysplasia

http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20090192,00.html

http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/heroine2.html

http://www.sgtyork.org/

 

 

Eight Great Presidential Performances

By Rick Bretz

In recognition of the inauguration this week, I have listed what I consider the best presidential portrayals on film and the small screen.  My criteria are simple.  Did the actor capture the spirit of the President’s personality?  And, was I able to watch the presentation without being aware that someone was trying too hard to play that particular president? Most of the performances on this list present a narrow window in a President’s life.  The more difficult portrayals involve playing the person over a lifetime.  A good example of this is Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of John Adams and Barry Bostwick’s performance in the George Washington miniseries. Below is the actor followed by the President portrayed and then the  film or television title.

1.  Kenneth Branagh-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Warm Springs

I was skeptical before making time to see this show that the actor could pull it off.  I was wrong.  Kenneth Branagh captured the force of Roosevelt’s personality and his physical and emotional fight with the crippling polio disease.  He also does a great job of relating to the people who have the same disease while rehabilitating at Warm Springs.  His supporting cast is terrific and he shows us why Roosevelt related to so many people.

2.  Daniel Day Lewis-Abraham-Lincoln-Lincoln

Enough has been written about Lewis’ choice concerning how Lincoln sounds when he speaks compared to other portrayals. If you watch Henry Fonda’s “Young Mr. Lincoln”,  the voice pitch comes close to what Lewis used in Lincoln.  What cannot be disputed is that he does capture Lincoln’s modest confidence and his sharp political mind.

3.  Paul Giamatti-John Adams-Johns Adams

 Paul Giamatti captures Adams from all directions.  He is spot on in his portrayal in many aspects.  His love for his wife Abigail, his mercurial temper, his difficult personality, his love for his family, his ego, and most of all, his sense of duty, fairness, and love for his country. Giamatti’s choices show the president from all sides while weaving his multi-layered personality into the presentation of Adams. He also plays him as he ages from a young man to his death which is difficult to accomplish.

4.  Frank Langella-Richard M. Nixon-Frost/Nixon

 Langella’s acting puts a human face on Richard Nixon in this Ron Howard directed film.  He sparred with David Frost through a majority of the movie and showed Nixon’s toughness, intellect, political savvy and his personality weaknesses.  This performance is remarkable because it keeps the audience interested despite knowing the outcome.  It explains history without getting into the minute details so the audience’s eyes don’t glaze over like sitting in 9th grade history class memorizing dates.

 5.  Jeff Daniels-George Washington-The Crossing

 Jeff Daniels does a terrific job showing people what it must have been like serving under George Washington.  Daniels gives us a performance that shows Washington cool under fire, a master at finding quality people to serve under him and how to manage them, and how to get soldiers to fight for him in the most extreme circumstances. Daniels as Washington shows the General as calm leader looking to find answers instead of assessing blame.

6.  Anthony Hopkins-John Quincy Adams-Amistad

 My favorite scene in this movie is when Adams is supposedly sleeping during a congressional session.  Then the speaker asks him to comment on the previous discussion. Adams speaks up immediately repeating the last exchange and giving his own caustic opinion about the matter and the current session itself.  Hopkins is a master at losing himself in roles and this is one.  His other Presidential portrayal of Richard Nixon is good as well but this one is fascinating especially with the final summation in court at the end.

7.  Randy Quaid, Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ; The Early Years

 Randy Quaid shows Lyndon Johnson with his loud voice, over-the–top personality and his energy to accomplish his own goals and fix what needs to be fixed.  This is another performance that shows the actor aging through several years from a young man to his days in congress.  Quaid gives an outstanding performance showing how Johnson dealt with people and how Johnson used his force of personality to get his legislation passed when he was a leader in congress.

8.  Henry Fonda-Abraham Lincoln-Young Mr. Lincoln

This movie was released in 1939 and it shows a young Henry Fonda at his best. Fonda gives us the Lincoln personality in the salad days of his lawyer career.  He takes on a case early in the movie that everyone believes is a lost cause.  Throughout the movie, Fonda shows the audience the Lincoln wit and his art for storytelling.  He shows us why Lincoln became President while  using his political savvy and intelligence.  Fonda’s acting also shows us an underlying sadness to his personality and an innate understanding he might be destined for great things.

Those are my favorites.  Do you agree? Leave a comment?

 More great characterizations:

David Morse-George Washington-John Adams; Edward Herrmann-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Eleanor and Franklin; Barry Bostwick-George Washington- George Washington (The Mini-Series);  Bill Murray-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Hyde Park on the Hudson; Gary Sinise-Harry S. Truman-Truman;  James Whitmore-Harry S. Truman-Give ‘Em Hell Harry; Raymond Massey-Abraham Lincoln-Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Brian Keith-Teddy Roosevelt-The Wind and the Lion