June 16, 2008

Father Goose (1964)
Grade: 68/100

Director: Ralph Nelson
Stars: Cary Grant, Leslie Caron, Trevor Howard

What it's about. Set in the Pacific, circa 1942. The Japanese are overtaking various islands, pushing back the Allies. Cary Grant plays a middle-aged beachcomber who drinks quite a bit and apparently ekes out a living as a trader. He is compelled by Trevor Howard and the British Royal Navy to become a spotter, residing on a remote island and reporting Japanese plane movements via radio to the Allies.

A nearby island is occupied by the Japanese, and Grant is dispatched to rescue that island's spotter. Instead, Grant encounters schoolteacher Leslie Caron, who has seven (predictably) adorable English and French girls in tow, ages five to thirteen. Grant rescues them instead, and much comedy ensues, along with the inevitable romantic friction between Grant and Caron. But their island paradise is threatened once a Japanese plane sees them.

How others will see it. Classic movie fans will enjoy seeing Grant, Caron, and Howard, but even those too young to recognize the one-time moviestars will find the story compelling. The film is in color, which makes it accessible for family audiences.

How I felt about it. Despite the best efforts of the little-seen and much feared Japanese, this is a comedy, reminiscent of The African Queen. That movie was also set during World War II, and also involved a seafaring loner and drinker who is reformed by a headstrong woman. Although a bit better, Father Goose is less well known than The African Queen. This has much to do with the charisma (if not the chemistry) of Bogart and Hepburn, and their willingness to adapt more strident screen personas. Grant hadn't been strident since Only Angels Have Wings, and why should he be, since his comic instincts were remarkable. When he gets mad or frustrated, he is far more endearing than fearsome. A young child hits his foot with a hammer, and while it is hardly a highlight, its kept from groaner status by Grant's exaggerated hot-footed reaction.

Cary Grant turned 60 in 1964, although he remained trim and could pass for someone considerably younger. Charade (1963) was a box office smash, but he was stung by criticism that he was too old to be romancing the young and gorgeous Audrey Hepburn. Father Goose was an attempt by Grant to steer his onscreen persona into something more age appropriate.

This proved unexpectedly difficult. Grant was the master of romantic comedies, but couldn't or wouldn't be cast as a paternal figure, unlike John Wayne or James Stewart. In Father Goose, Grant once again seduces a comely woman half his age. The film was well received (its screenplay won an Oscar), but Grant was tired of the formula, and simply stopped making films, except for Walk Don't Run (1966), which had hottie Samantha Eggar falling for a man her own age.

So, Father Goose is the end of an era, the final classic Cary Grant vehicle. As such, we can forgive its small weaknesses, such as the silent child who likes to bite Cary Grant's fingers, Grant's "comic" thirst for the bottle, and the willingness of Trevor Howard to devote so much time on Grant. It's as if he has nothing to do but wait for Grant to radio in.