Irene Dunne as Vinnie Day in "Life with Father" movieIn honor of Mother’s Day, here is my contribution to the National Review Online symposium on mothers in media:

Although the movies of the past few decades have often treated motherhood rather cynically, there have been some exemplary mothers in Hollywood films, especially during the 1930s and ’40s.

Some fine examples are the self-sacrificing Apple Annie (May Robson) in Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day, the courageous and indomitable Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson) in the William Wyler film of the same name, the sweet-natured and infinitely supportive Emily Hardy (Fay Holden) in MGM’s underappreciated Andy Hardy series, and the intrepid, widowed businesswoman and homemaker Lillian Gilbreth (Myrna Loy) in Belles on Their Toes. 

Most impressive of all, however, is Vinnie Day, played superbly by Irene Dunne in the 1947 classic Life with Father. Seemingly submissive and even a bit ditzy, she’s the glue that holds both the film and the family together in spite of irascible husband Clare’s fulminations and demanding ways. Vinnie uses persuasion, quiet strength, and sly manipulation to make things right, and she is unfailingly patient and decent.

She also looks out for her family’s spiritual welfare, and when she finds out that Clare has never been baptized, she is appalled and gets to work on making sure that they will one day be united in Heaven. A house with a mother like Vinnie is the closest to Heaven most of us can hope to get in this life.