Ah, father’s day. The day when you end up having to scrape together money you don’t have because your brother went ahead and bought a really expensive present that he just expected you to go in on with him even though he never asked you. Yes. It’s a wonderful day.

So… yeah… I think this list is pretty self explanatory. For the warm and fuzzy to the manipulative and terrible, movie dads come in all shapes and sizes. Here are some of my favorites from obscure classic film.

Florian Clement (C. Aubrey Smith) in But the Flesh is Weak

Robert Montgomery and C. Aubrey Smith play a father/son team of male gold diggers. Though the films focuses mostly on Montgomery and his relationships with Heather Thatcher and Nora Gregor, the best moments in the film are the quiet ones between father and son. Clement is a good father who taught his son to do bad things.

Stephen Ashe (Lionel Barrymore) in A Free Soul

Barrymore won an Academy Award for this performance. While the film is mostly memorable for the sizzling pre-code chemistry between Norma Shearer and Clark Gable, it’s Barrymore’s alcoholic lawyer father who gives the film its real heart.

Viktor Roth (Frank Morgan) in The Mortal Storm

Probably one of the best fathers in classic film. Roth is a father not just to his own children, but to his step sons, and their two best friends. Not only does he support the family and teach them to think for themselves, but he offers them the strongest kind of spiritual guidance after he sent to a concentration camp.

Eddie Collins (James Dunn) in Bad Girl

An expecting father. Much like director Frank Borzage’s similarly themed Little Man, What Now? Eddie’s story is about the sacrifices he’s willing to make for the child that he and his wife are expecting.

David Merlin (David Niven) in Bachelor Mother

Sort of an adoptive father. He falls for the son of Ginger Rogers (even though he’s not even really her’s either) just as much as he falls for Ginger. This is a lovely movie about how sometimes the best family is the one you make.

Sir Winterton (C. Aubrey Smith) in The Bachelor Father

This is definitely pre-code. It’s about a man who nailed a lot of different women when he was young, and now wants to gather all of his several children (all by different mothers) that he’s never met. This is one of my favorite movies from the early 1930s.

So who are some of your favorite dads from classic film?

By Katie Richardson

Films In This Collection

  • Night Nurse
  • Three on a Match
  • The Divorcee
  • A Free Soul
  • Female

Special Features

  • Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin, and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood
  • Audio Commentaries on Night Nurse and The Divorcee
  • Theatrical trailers for Night Nurse, Three on a Match, and Night Nurse

Warner Bros. is doing classic film fans a great favor by releasing these rather rare pre-code gems on DVD for the first time. In 2006 they release the first volume, which featured the films Red Headed Woman, Baby Face, and Waterloo Bridge. While that volume was certainly a treat, and featured three excellent films (especially the beautiful Waterloo Bridge, which needs to be seen by everyone), special features were sparse and it didn’t feel like a very complete collection.

The second volume, however, is a real treat for any pre-code fan. Not only does it contain five of the absolute most essential film from the era, it also has commentaries and an in-depth documentary that really helps to create the entire pre-code experience for this set.

Vol. 2 features two Norma Shearer films, The Divorcee and A Free Soul. Shearer was considered the queen of the pre-code era, and these two films are the most important of her early 1930s career. The Divorcee is considered an extremely important and racy film, but there seems to be no escape from the values of the time, and in the end the themes of female empowerment are undercut by the double standard the film tries so hard to fight against. A Free Soul, however, is a fascinating and sensual film with Norma Shearer as a good girl gone bad and Clark Gable as a sexually charge gangster. Shearer and Gable were always a good pair, and they sizzle together in this wonderful pre-code which won Lionel Barrymore an Oscar.

Three on a Match may be the most important film of the era, simply as a non-stop example of all the rules filmmakers could break in the early 1930s. Before release, several minutes were cut from the film, so that it just became scene after scene of pre-code debauchery. Drug use, child abuse, sex outside of marriage, violence. While Three on a Match isn’t a particularly good film – it’s very dreary and plodding – it’s essential to watch as a great example of pre-code. And Ann Dvorak gives an absolutely phenomenal performance, possibly her very best.

Night Nurse is another film that seems to be just a huge collection of pre-code moments, though it’s certainly a better film than Three on a Match. It’s a film about a plot to starve children to death, and along the way feature violence against women, leading ladies in various states of undress, a consistently drunken mother, and a charming and completely likable bootlegger as the leading man. But unlike Three on a Match, its story is interesting and its very well paced. Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell make a very fun team.

Female is probably my favorite film on the set. Ruth Chatterton, a very underappreciated actress from the era, gives an excellent and extremely sexual performance as a CEO who likes to make her employees her boy toys. Chatterton was an older woman – she was 40 years old when this movie was released – and she used that wonderful fact to separate herself from her contemporaries. Her grace and maturity are unmatched. She’s sexy and she’s smart. Watching her seduce her latest man is some of the most fun a pre-code film has to offer. No man could resist the lovely Ruth Chatterton. She was in charge, in the board room and in the bedroom.

The special features on the set really help in giving the viewer an even deeper understanding of the films and politics of the pre-code era. The documentary Thou Shalt Not is fascinating, and features some great clips and pieces of some of the best movies of the era. The commentaries on Night Nurse and The Divorcee are both in depth and enthusiastic, done by people who are both knowledgeable of the era and who clearly love the films.

Forbidden Hollywood vol. 2 is simply one of the very best DVD sets to come out in a very long time. If you’re a classic film fan, it’s a must have.

By Katie Richardson