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Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners
Posted May 17, 2011 to photo album "Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners"
Mike Mills poignant portrait of a father and son relationship inspired us to look back at how films from Chaplin to Beginners have handled this paternal subject.
The Champ (1931)
Chaplin's The Kid was so successful that inevitably it became the blueprint for father-son movies for years to come, and its influence is evident in King Vidor's 1931 film The Champ. Wallace Beery plays Andy "Champ" Purcell, a once-great boxer, who is now a no-good drunk and a gambler living in abject poverty in Tijuana. The one thing Champ has in life that he cares about is his button-cute, blond-haired son, Dink (Jackie Cooper), who adores his father despite his obvious flaws. As in The Kid, father and son are separated, but in this case the father decides that his son should not grow up with a deadbeat like himself and so sends him to live with his mother, Linda (Irene Rich), who has married into money after divorcing Champ. Dink, however, escapes from his luxurious existence to return to his father's side, thus inspiring Champ to turn his life around for the sake of his son. This heartwarming film was a massive hit, and its success resulted in Beery and Cooper reuniting again on screen a number of times in the following years, despite the fact that they did not get on well. (Cooper claims his aging co-star “always made me feel uncomfortable," and acted as if he were an “unkempt dog.”) The Champ was also a critical smash, with Beery and screenwriter Frances Marion both winning Academy Awards, for Best Actor and Best Screenplay, respectively. It was Marion––who had previously written a number of movies for Beery, most notably Min and Bill––who conceived the idea for The Champ. The highly respected screenwriter found her inspiration while she was in Mexico, where she was supposed to be writing a Western for Beery: as she walked through Tijuana, she crossed paths with a drunken man who was staggering out of a bar, followed by a crowd, from which emerged a young boy, crying, “Can't you see the Champ needs some air.” This touching moment planted a seed in Marion's mind, prompting her to jettison her plans for the cowboy movie and write a tearjerker instead.