Thursday, December 01, 2016

"Father Goose" (1964)

This is the very first Cary Grant movie I ever saw.  And I was so excited by it, at the age of 13 or so, that the next day, I told my art teacher the entire plot in great detail.  Except I forgot to tell her the title, and so after about five minutes of me telling her allll about it, she was like, "What was this movie called?"  "Oh, um, Father Goose."  And she had totally seen it before, and I was a little deflated because I had discovered the funniest movie ever... and she'd discovered it first.

But anyway, I still love this movie.  One of my absolute favorite comedies.  It concerns one Walter Eckland (Cary Grant), a snarky misanthrope who wants nothing more than to sit out WWII on his recently acquired boat.  His frenemy Houghton (Trevor Howard) tricks him into being a plane spotter for the Allies, radioing in the movements of enemy Japanese airplanes.  Walter doesn't like it at all, and he likes it even less when he ends up rescuing a French woman, Catherine Freno (Leslie Caron), and seven little girls of various nationalities.  Freno was fleeing with them from the encroaching Japanese, trying to get them back to their families or something.

Walter and Catherine get along together about as well as my 9-year-old and my 4-year-old, which is to say they snarl and snap at each other a lot, do everything in their power to aggravate each other, and both behave badly for quite some time.


And then they fall in love.


And then the Japanese figure out the island is inhabited and attack.

And, most surprisingly of all, this movie is actually funny!  It's got a wonderful dry humor, with some of the best snappy one-liners and zingy comebacks ever written by someone not named Joss Whedon.  Here's one of my favorite lines that I think would be funny even without all the context, to give you idea of the flavor:

"We could have transferred in George Dickens if he hadn't gotten himself eaten that way."

Seriously, Dickens, what a slacker!  Getting eaten rather than going and helping out the Allied cause.  Tsk tsk.  Anyway, yes, this is a very very very quotable movie.  Love the dialog to bits.  There's also a lot of wonderful visual comedy, mostly in the form of Cary Grant's facial expressions.  His reaction shots are priceless.

While rewatching this movie so I could review it, I spent a lot of time thinking about how it plays with gender stereotypes.  Catherine Freno is supposed to be an uptight spinster whose frigid insistence on straightening pictures and making rules is keeping her from finding happiness with a man.  Walter Eckland is supposed to be a shiftless, slobby escapist who looks out only for himself and would be so much better off if he would just get his act together, take on some responsibility, and find happiness with a woman.  The obvious expectation would be that when Catherine loosens up and Walter straightens up, then they can be together and be happy because then they're better people than before.


Except that's not quite how the movie goes.  Catherine's rules are important.  They help keep the girls, herself, and even Walter safe.  Her insistence on discipline and propriety protects those seven girls during a very scary separation from their parents.  All along, she can tell the difference between rules for the sake of rules, and rules that will keep people from harm.  And Walter's not actually shiftless, he just doesn't like doing the right thing solely because it's expected of him.  He's perfectly willing to sacrifice himself to save Catherine and those seven children, not because he's become a nicer person by the end of the film, but because he's been a nice one all along.  Crusty and growly, yes, but he was never shiftless and selfish -- other characters just assumed he was.


Instead of Catherine loosening up and Walter straightening up, what actually happens is that they learn to see the truth about each other's behavior, the why behind the what.  Catherine has been in important diplomatic positions since a young age, and knows the importance of propriety and protocol because she has seen how they influence people for good or bad.  Walter realized a few years earlier that people who are more concerned about appearances than about who a person is are superficial and not worth dealing with, and he's been searching for a world where he can be valued or not based on himself alone.

He thinks at first that Catherine is someone who would judge him on whether or not he's wearing a necktie, and she thinks at first that he's someone who subverts propriety for no good reason. But when they realize that their initial impressions were wrong, that's when they learn to care for each other.  They don't change inside, either of them, but instead, they stop hiding who they are behind barriers they've erected to keep themselves safe from the world.


It's pretty profound, especially for a movie that is unabashedly silly at times.  If you've never seen this, please do yourself a favor and find it.  You can often find the whole thing on YouTube, pick up a used DVD copy fairly cheaply online, or watch it on a service like Amazon Instant Video.


Is this movie family friendly?  Mostly.  There are a couple of mild bad words, and several instances where a character was going to say a bad word, but it gets cut off or silenced.  There's a bit of danger and excitement, with a fighter plane shooting at the characters and so on.  There are some tame kisses, and a bit of very vague innuendo in dialog.  I would let my kids watch this with me around to mute the bad words -- in fact, I'm hoping to show it to them soon.


I wrote this review specifically for the Cary Grant Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.  Follow the link above to check out the other entries!

36 comments:

  1. Wonderful review! I just watched this several days ago. So much fun!

    I really enjoyed your analysis of how they don't actually change, but learn to see who the other really is. I didn't think of it that way, but it makes a lot of sense and explains why the romance is so sweet. :)

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    1. Thanks, Christina! I'm glad you agreed with my analysis :-)

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  2. I think my family can quote this entire film, from memory -- and we often do!

    I think one of my favorite lines is: "A PRIEST? GOOD HEAVENS, HE'S KILLED HER."

    Oh, and: "THIS LOOKS LIKE A SNAKE."

    And: "He! ... He made a GESTURE, sir!"

    My grandmother had this in her collection of old movies. I'd borrow it whenever I could, and whenever I couldn't, it was because my cousins had "stolen" it for family viewing. It was their family tradition to watch it every Christmas Eve. ;)

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    1. Charity, yes! One of my family's favorite films to quote. "You know what 'fat chance' means?" "Married?! Goody Two Shoes and the Filthy Beast?!?" "Too salty?" "No, it's in Yugoslavia."

      This would be a great one for Christmastime ritual watching!

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  3. "Walter and Catherine get along about as well as my 9-year-old and my 4-year-old." HahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaHA.

    Been there, done that :-)

    This looks like a fun movie! And I love your analysis of how the story plays with gender stereotypes--I like stories that can do that :-)

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    1. Jessica, this is a super cute and adorable and funny movie. And it's almost a retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs too, really -- Catherine is Snow White, the seven girls are the dwarfs, and Walter is the extra-grumpy dwarf. Instead of a poisoned apple, there's a poisonous snake...

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    2. Neat!! It's always cool to recognize fairy-tale retellings in places where you wouldn't necessarily think to look for them . . .

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  4. I'd go along with this being a kid friendly film. I was 7 when I first saw it. My first Cary Grant movie as well. I've never lost my fondness for it over all these years. Whenever my sister and I hear anyone saying the name "Walter" we start to laugh because we both hear Trevor Howard bellowing.

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    1. Caftan Woman, how cool it was your first Cary Grant movie too!

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  5. Oh, I do love this movie! The pairing of Cary and Leslie seems weird, but then you watch them together and it's just lovely. You made a fantastic point concerning the characters of Walter and Catherine. I think that's what has made me return to the film. That and its hilarious script!

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    1. Michaela, yes, the pairing sounds like it would never work, but they both play off each other beautifully :-)

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  6. I adore Cary Grant. Last spring I went on a kick and watched like ten CG movies one right after the other, and this was one of them. It was cute, but the humor isn't exactly my favorite...I like Cary Grant best when he's the bumbling, confused, stuttering love interest who keeps messing things up without trying to. (Have you seen My Favorite Wife?) But like you said, this is a good one. I enjoyed your review!

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    1. Emma Jane, I don't blame you. I'm a sucker for him myself! I can see how the humor would put some people off -- I like sarcastic humor, so it really tickles me, whereas bumbling and madcap shenanigans don't amuse me, so I'm not a fan of most screwball comedies. I don't think I've seen "My Favorite Wife" yet, but I likely will give it a whirl if it crosses my path, since Cary Grant is always a good idea :-)

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    2. I highly recommend it! It's my favorite of his and one of my favorites in general.

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    3. Emma, I'll add it to my list of movies to see. My library doesn't have it, but maybe I'll find it elsewhere sometime.

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  7. Looks like I'll need to search this one out. I love how your blog points me toward all these great classic movies.

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    1. Ashley, it is a hoot! I hope you can find and see it. Glad I can be helpful like that ;-)

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  8. It's a very good movie, but I haven't perceived these gender stereotypes until now - they are much deeper than what they look like. It was a wonderful review, my friend!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

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    1. Le, I didn't notice them myself for many years, so yeah... rewatches are my friend!

      I'm working my way through the blogathon entries, so I'm sure I'll get to yours before long. Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. Aw, I love your take on it, that they don't change but just see each other for who they really are. You're so right :) And Leslie Caron is always great - I couldn't believe it when she was in 'The Durrels' this year and still looking so gorgeous!

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    1. Thanks, Catherine! I haven't seen "The Durrels," but Caron is one of my favorite parts of the movie "Chocolat." She's beautiful and sweet!

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  10. My absolute favorite CG movie. My whole family regularly throws quotes back and forth. "My coconut is empty", and "It looks like a snake". I love how they take turns topping each other. "How can you tell it's a she?" "Her mouth is open."
    There's never been anyone like Cary Grant. I'd say the closest we've gotten recently is George Clooney.
    Thanks Rachel. I love that people half my age share my feelings about these wonderful movies

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    1. Mary, it's Just So Quotable! We've said, "You know what 'fat chance' means?" so often that we almost don't remember it's from a movie, lol!

      George Clooney does have a bit of Cary Grant's vibe, but he's not quite there. Though I was very amused by him in Hail, Caesar!.

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  11. This is one of my (and my family's!) favorite movies of all time. We quote it SO much. :D Great review!!

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    1. Natalie, based on the comments I've gotten here, there are a LOT of families like yours and mine that quote this film all the time :-) It has some of the best zippy one-liners ever!

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  12. I saw this movie for the first time probably last year so it was interesting to see a different side of Cary. I love it though and love Caron in it. I really like your analysis of the characters and how they don't change. It's more true to life!

    Thanks for taking the time to participate in my Blogathon :) Looking forward to yours next week!!

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    1. Phyl, yes! I like how it's a different look and feel for Cary Grant. He's not suave and dapper, and he's also not quite so madcap as he got sometimes. Gruff and mellow was a great combo on him.

      By the way, I LOVED the way you came up with funny captions for shots from each movie in your blogathon. That was brilliant! Kept me very entertained :-)

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    2. Haha thanks. (Btw I got you card a couple days ago. You should be getting one soon ;) )

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    3. Phyl, oooh! I look forward to getting it :-)

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    4. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Best Christmas card ever!!!!! (So funny -- I almost used that pic in my header, but I couldn't find it at a good enough resolution.) LOVE IT!!!

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    5. Haha glad you like it ;) I almost made one with a pic from White Christmas but then thought of Alan Ladd and knew I had to use him :)

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    6. Well, it's so perfect, I sent a photo of it to DKoren and she loved it too. I hang our Christmas cards on the cupboards in the kitchen, and this one is on the cupboard where we keep the plates, so I look at it and grin multiple times a day as I prepare meals :-D Thank you!

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  13. I love this movie!!! My CA roommate introduced me to it and I laughed my way through it every time we watched. It really is hilarious! I was not expecting it to be so funny nor so sweet, but I've never been happier to be wrong about a movie! :)

    I hadn't analyzed Walter and Catherine's coming together like that before, but it has been an age since I've seen it. Clearly I need a rewatch soon!

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    1. Kara, good for your roommate! I was totally cracking up when I rewatched it to write this review -- it just doesn't get old. But it really doesn't sound funny or sweet just from describing the storyline -- which makes it all the more remarkable!

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  14. Well done! Was there a better actor than Cary Grant at making light comedy? It is an talent that is sadly lacking in today's actors. I recall seeing this at the drive-in with OPERATION PETTICOAT about 1966. Great fun. Again, well done.

    Gord

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    1. You're so right, Gord -- no one makes light, frothy, but still emotionally resonant comedy like Cary Grant. The only modern actor I can think of who comes close to being able to pull that off is Ewan McGregor.

      Ahhhhhh, I envy you getting to watch movies like this on the big screen!

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