Michael Landon, the Father I Knew (1999)
After an inauspicious start in the movies, including the lead role in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Michael Landon found fame on the smaller screen where he starred in some of television’s best loved shows. Yet the family values espoused on 'Bonanza' and 'Little House on the Prairie' conflicted with the personal life of the thrice married Landon, a situation his namesake from the second marriage found difficult to reconcile. Though this film ends with Michael Landon Jr coming to terms with the failings of his father the mere existence of this bitter biopic, which he wrote and directed, would indicate there is still some healing to go.
Strutting about with all the subtlety of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, John Schneider’s early scenes as Landon gel with the wholesome father figure beamed into living rooms the world over. Yet before long, the elder Landon is fat-shaming his daughter and abandoning his son to pursue an extra-marital affair. While Leslie becomes bulimic, Michael Jr turns to drink and smashes his car in a crash that's as unconvincing as Schneider's array of wigs. Cheryl Ladd, as wife Lynn, tries to put on a brave face, but only succeeds in ensuring it doesn’t age. This despite the fact that three different actors are employed to portray her children’s progression over the years.
This was Michael Landon Jr’s first film as writer/director and it would appear he picked up a few bad habits during his apprenticeship on his father’s 'Highway to Heaven'. Ex-television stars in lead roles are supported by an amateurish cast who flounder in a script that is cloying in its piousness. Nevertheless, Landon Jr has gone on to produce, write and/or direct several successful adaptations of the faith-based work of author Janette Oke.
Michael Landon (senior) himself wrote, directed and appeared in two semi-autobiographical films about his own childhood. In both The Loneliest Runner and Sam’s Son, Landon’s father was depicted in a sympathetic light. As for his mother, let’s just say there was still some healing to go.
Cheryl Landon, Lynn’s eldest daughter and Michael’s step-daughter, does not appear as a character in this biopic. Her autobiography, 'I Promised My Dad', gives her account of some of the events depicted here.
Some generic behind the scenes action from Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven, but no scene recreations from Landon’s limited film career.