Family on Screen: Patriarchy, Father-Son Melodramas

Research in progress: Jan 24, 2022

Hollywood Melodramas: Father Son

The patriarch, rigid and stern or benevolent (usually the former), has been one of the most consistent types (and stereotypes) in American cinema.

The character of the aging (or dying) patriarch, who is tormented, and has troubled relationships with his son, has appeared in melodramas about various social classes, aristocracy as well as middle and lower-class.

The central theme (or conflict) revolves around the passing of the roles, with its duties and responsibilities, from one generation to the next.

Often, the patriarch’s anxieties lead to his son’s tormented insecurities, and neither can be attributed to wealth or status.

Burl Ives and Lee J. Cobb had specialized in playing such parts.

Burl Ives played variations of this type in three films in 1958, winning a Supporting Actor Oscar for The Big Country. The other two were: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Desire Under the Elms.

The filial melodrama–was it a coincidence? a cycle? a fad?

Movies (A to Z)

All Fall Down

Arlington Road

Barbarian Invasions, The

Big Country, The

Bigger Than Life

Blood and Sand (1941)

Blue Velvet (1986)

Brothers Karamazov, The

Cat on Hot Tin Roof

Cobweb, The

Detective, The

Desire Under the Elms

East of Eden

Field of Dreams

Graduate, The

Great Santini, The

Harry and Son (1982)

He Got Game

Hud (1963)

Hurricane, The

I Am Sam

In the Bedroom

In the Name of the Father

Last Picture Show, The

Life as a House

Lion King, The


Nobody’s Fool

Peyton Place

Rebel Without a Cause

Return, The (Soviet)

Road to Perdition

Secondhand Lions



Splendor in the Grass

Tea and Sympathy

A Wedding


Father-Son: Defrosting of Relations:

Big Fish

Edward Scissorhands (the paternal creator)

Hulk, The