"Married? Goody Two-Shoes and the Filthy Beast?" - Commander Frank Houghton, Royal Austrailian Navy
Director: Ralph Nelson
Writer: S. H. Barnett, Peter Stone, Frank Tarloff
Principal cast members:
My sisters are connoisseurs of the movies of Cary Grant and they go absolutely nuts over his numerous collaborations with Doris Day. In general, they do not consider this 1964 film a favorite while for my brother and me, it is possibly the quintessential Cary Grant role, an opinion shared by the late Mr. Grant, himself.
The story takes place in the south Pacific during World War II on the islands near Australia. Walter Ecklund is a craggy beachcomber living alone on an island and rather grumpy about how the war has invaded his solitude. The local harbormaster for the Australian Navy threatens to commandeer Ecklund's boat unless he agrees to become a coast watcher as part of the defense of the islands. Using a timely boating collision and the confiscation of Ecklund's whiskey, the harbormaster gets Ecklund to reluctantly agree.
Walter's life becomes extremely complicated when he stumbles upon a group of girls and their adult caretaker who have been displaced by the Japanese advance. Forced to share his island and his limited resources with them, he struggles to deal with these ladies and his mission. And, not surprisingly, comedy ensues.
The humor and warmth of Father Goose takes a bit to develop. Early in the film, Grant gives a spot-on performance as a confirmed bachelor who revels in a solitary existence. When the ladies arrive on his island, things change dramatically and his curmudgeonly responses to Catherine's takeover are humorous and in perfect character. As time goes on, we begin to see him develop relationships with Catherine and with her students. It is in these relationships, particularly in Grant's interactions with some of the young girls, that we see the true heart and soul of the film.
Leslie Caron is excellent as the French consul's daughter used to a life of considerably more comfort and privilege, yet perfectly willing to adapt to the struggles at hand, provided Ecklund doesn't get in her way. As their forced closeness continues, we begin to see her vulnerability and not surprisingly for the genre, we begin to see the chemistry develop between the two of them.
The girls who make up Catherine's class are delightful in their roles. They are a multilingual group which means some of them actually have no dialogue though they are perfectly capable of expressing themselves as they interact with Grant. His rapport with the girls is one of the things that really makes the movie fun.
There is drama in the movie, of course, since this is a war zone and the Japanese eventually threaten the safety of the group, forcing them to head to sea in a desperate flight for safety. But ultimately, this is a story about human interaction and the characters in the center are enjoyable from start to finish.
Cary Grant was asked to play Henry Higgins in 'My Fair Lady' but wisely turned it down, recommending they stick with Rex Harrison as the lead. He took 'Father Goose' as his next project and tried to land Audrey Hepburn as the lead. Fortunately for 'My Fair Lady' she chose that film which opened the door for Leslie Caron. In the end, Caron turns in a rather delightful performance as Catherine Freneau and of course Audrey Hepburn immortalized herself as Eliza Doolittle.
Father Goose is an enjoyable comedy but most of all, it is one of those perfectly effortless performances by an actor in his prime and that alone makes it well worth seeing.
Coolness factor: 5
Overall entertainment: 7