Father Goose (1964)

“If you’re waiting for the big finale, I’m sorry — this is all I do.”

Synopsis:
During World War II, an alcoholic non-conformist (Cary Grant) is forced by a Royal Australian Navy commander (Trevor Howard) to watch for Japanese planes off an isolated island in Papua New Guinea — but Grant soon finds his beloved solitude interrupted by the arrival of a French woman (Leslie Caron) caring for seven stranded school girls.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “genial comedy” — Cary Grant’s next-to-last film before retiring from the screen — “has none of the typical elements of a ‘cult’ movie”, but he notes that he’s “come across an amazing number of people who are truly devoted to it.” (He’s “told in some places it always plays on television at Easter.”) Peary expresses wonder that the script won an Oscar (he refers to it as “typical”), but adds that it “benefits from inspired teaming of the stars, who work extremely well together”. When contemplating why “this film [is] so popular, especially with women”, Peary conjectures “that many women look at the heavy-drinking, gone-to-seed men sitting next to them in front of the TV and hope that they’ll follow Grant’s example and reform, to display once more those qualities that made them so lovable in the first place.”

Peary’s somewhat dismissive review of this film led me to expect less than what I found when revisiting this enjoyable romantic comedy, which starts off somewhat strained (both Grant and Caron’s characters are pills) but goes in surprisingly delightful and quirky directions. Watching as “Grant reforms and reveals his bravery, resourcefulness, and concern for the trapped females” (Caron and her charges) is heartwarming and humorous, and Caron’s evolution (thanks to being plied with alcohol after a snake bite) plays out well. Thankfully, the gaggle of girls are nicely (under)played by the unknown young actresses, adding to the veracity of the scenario. There are numerous memorable moments, both humorous and frightening; it’s the interplay between these two moods that provides so much authentic tension.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Cary Grant as Walter
  • Leslie Caron as Catherine
  • Many memorable moments

  • Peter Stone and Frank Tarloff’s Oscar-winning script

    Caron (while fishing): How do you know it’s a she?
    Grant: Her mouth is open! Now be quiet.

Must See?
Yes, for the delightful script.

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5 Responses to “Father Goose (1964)”

  1. Agreed – a once-must, mainly for the delightful script (an exceptionally bright comedy for the ’60s) but also for the performances by Grant, Caron and Howard.

    I only saw this once before, as a kid – and, no doubt, I was unable at the time to fully appreciate just how nicely this film was put together. With its somewhat-thin premise, it could have easily seemed stretched a bit at two hours – but the time moves along briskly and it’s quite easy to just enjoy each step of the narrative due to the vibrant and often-surprising nature of the material.

    Grant had, of course, worked the year before on ‘Charade’ with writer Peter Stone (who would go on to memorable projects like ‘1776’ and ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’). And though co-writer Frank Tarloff was less-well-known (it seems he wrote a lot for television), his linking with Stone for this film proved pleasantly fortuitous; their dialogue simply crackles in a seemingly effortless manner.

    Those familiar with other films by director Ralph Nelson may be surprised at how well he establishes just the right tone from the beginning and maintains it throughout. (By comparison, I’ve found a number of his other films somewhat ordinary.) His handling of the young girls, in particular, is exemplary – since their behavior never becomes the cutesy or cloying type that mars so many child performances in movies. (Here, the script is also a blessing in that it gives each child very little to actually say but, when any of them do say something, it’s pointed for naturally comic effect.)

    Grant, Caron and Howard all appear to be having quite a lot of fun here – each of them realizing that being somewhat restrained would increase their charm.

    All told, a lovely film!

  2. Wonderfully said!

    This is a review where I could easily have gone on for another paragraph or so, highlighting specifics of the delightful screenplay… But I decided simply to say, “Watch it, it’s worth it”. Glad you did!

  3. Also — I do wish I had specifically called out how deftly the narrative incorporates Howard’s character from afar (and how nicely timed his interactions are with Grant).

    So — I’ll so that here and now!

  4. How about that scene with the prepubescent girl crushing out on Grant? Very well handled, I think, given how easily it could have gone awry.

  5. Agreed.

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