Books for Everyone!

February 2022

Father Goose

I am writing this opinion piece about a film that I’ve watched only once — before the DVD arrives through the mail at my house. This past week, on Groundhog’s Day, or, rather, Groundhog’s Night, I viewed this 1964 Hollywood movie via streaming.

I am not like those corporate shills on the I-net sites who demographically brag they’ve ALWAYS been a cord-cutter: “I never paid a cable bill in my life.”

No, dearie. Your parents footed that expense, along with everything else in your 29 years on this earth. There’s one cord, the umbilical, that will never be cut.

Dear Husband and I corded up sometime in the year 2000. And I still think of The Cord as corduroy!

We further satellited-up with HDTV in 2012. After we bought our first wide-screen. I still recall the Installer-Kid hooking us up. He stood there with about 15 analog cable connectors in his hands, looking bilious. I tried not to laugh while I kept the lovely beagle Bridget from going after the cord tips!

The reason why I’d not viewed this flick starring a maturing Cary Grant is that his last few cinematic efforts were not that good. The walk, don’t run attempt was ghastly. For the longest time, I refused to even consider watching Father Goose because I confused it with Houseboat, where Grant, in real life, falls in love with Sophia Loren, who probably had no intention of marrying him! (The movie mix-up had a certain logic to it; both stories take place in an aquatic setting, with a boat.)

The celluloid pairing of a greying-Grant with a young nubile, who was capable of nubility (though not necessarily nobility), that union tended to create all sorts of mayhem for Mr. Grant. He clearly knew that he was getting up there in years (past 50); and, while he was privately looking for a mate with which to procreate, he did not wish to imprint in celluloid the image of a dirty old man.

Which he did not do. He was sincerely respectful of the opposite sex on-screen, right up to that silver-haired silver-screen end. Off-screen, however, Cary was not a man for any sane and sensible woman to marry.

Mr. Grant was born in 1904 in Bristol, England, into poverty and a cruelly chaotic home. By 1964, he’d lived quite a life of trying to tie the knot that somehow always came undone on him. He was not a woman-hater, but he was not, within the confines of a marriage, the most loving of husbands. And, so, it was with utter amazement that I watched Cary Grant in Father Goose. He was having the time of his thespian life, acting more as Archie Leach than as Cary Grant, but nevertheless crafting a solidly charismatic guy called Walter Christoper Eckland!

Leslie Caron, as Schoolmarm Catherine Louise Marie Ernestine Freneau is stunningly beautiful, utterly disarming, and quite comedic. Caron had already displayed scintillating allure, enchantment and ironic badinage in the marvelous 1958 MGM musical, Gigi. In her role here as a prim and somewhat uppity schoolteacher, she is expertly comedic, with superb timing. She is humorously witty to the point that comedy might have been her path to no acclaim at all!

The immortal Lucille Ball proved, for one and for all, that Hollywood comediennes receive no coin, no credit, no acclaim, no credibility, no golden statuette. The beautiful Hollywood comedienne, Carole Lombard, is oftentimes remembered more for her tragic death than for her talents in that genre called screwball comedy.

Many were the times that Old Hollywood had no sense of humor, no sense of dignity, no sense at all!

By 1964, a film such as Father Goose was a fluffy flick in search of audiences that needed more fun in their lives. That same need is true today, at least it is for me.

Director Ralph Nelson was wonderfully accomplished. He cleverly allowed the actors and actresses to overtake the direction in ways that encouraged even those 7 young young girls to perform with charm, and the type of non-hammy restraint that most child actors, of any era, somehow cannot muster under the tempting strain of those bright lights.

Many of those girls had never acted before, but the pros around them, namely, Grant and Caron were true pros. They ceded enough dramatic space so that those little girls, those big threats on-screen, were able to take their shares of the spotlight. I was quite taken by the naturalness of the dialogue between Grant and the more challenging of the schoolgirls. Clearly, he enjoyed the company of children, uh, well-behaved children. Who doesn’t??

The “little boy” in him felt safe within the presence of unspoiled juveniles, while the adult Grant showed calm acceptance of who he’d become by that stage of his busy, often tormented, private life. And I find it superlatively admirable that Archibald Leach had done his best, in ways we’d rather not know, to fully mature as a human being before he felt even remotely capable of biological reproduction. He would, of course, go on to the finest production of a daughter, but that singular event is best covered elsewhere, in the journalistic sources to whom he’d given full permission to misquote him. He stated that he improved on mis-quotation.

There are, of course, detractions and distractions in this film, although I do not know if the audio-visual glitches are due to the streaming of digital info that was originally analog. The lighting was too bright, and, at times, annoyingly uneven. The sound effects show the age of this motion picture. The production values could have been much better. Grant was a stickler for such things, going to many lengths to generate professional vraisemblance on a set. His gift of acting was part of his gift of knowing how and when to fit in, or not to do so.

Trevor Howard plays British Commander Frank Houghton with flair and worried concern over this friend who has gone to seed, or to Black-and-White. I was so pleased to see Archie Leach comfortably out of his shirt and tie! Evidently, so was he!

Lieutenant Stebbings is played by Jack Good, a writer-actor from whom no more was seen or heard.

Minor mention must be made of minor actor Ken Swofford, the marine helmsman, who will emerge decades later as a major player in many episodes of Murder, She Wrote.

The code names used are hilarious: Mother Goose (that becomes Father Goose); Big Bad Wolf; Bo Peep; and Briar Patch. They’re very seldom, if ever, used by character Eckland, Cary Grant.

Post-production must have been very rushed. The well-integrated musical score, and the technical smoothing-out that is typically the unsung work of specialists, creating the icing on the cake of any Hollywood production, they’re simply not there. For me, however, the almost amateurish aspects to Father Goose make it all the more likable.

The plot is improbable. The ending is unlikely. The actions within a supposed World War II movie can seem preposterous. The special effects are not one bit special.  And, yet, it is all of those hokey and fantastical elements, interspersed with the more probable and realistic ones, that make Father Goose a fun adventure.  That adventure is ideal for anyone fleeing the farce that real life — out there in the world — has become.