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FATHER GOOSE

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Cary Grant, Leslie Caron, Trevor Howard
Director: Ralph Nelson
Audio: Mono 2.0
Subtitles: none
Video: matted-widescreen 1.85:1, color
Studio: Artisan
Features: cast & crew, filmographies
Length: 118 minutes
Release Date: March 26, 2002

"All those miles of open sea and back again in a seven-foot dink?  You're nuts!"

Film ****

Most modern movie comedies, generally speaking, are not very memorable.  The art of pitch-perfect comedic timing has been utterly supplanted by broad slapstick, endless sexual innuendos, or worse, prerequisite toilet and bodily functions humor.  This is, of course, not to mention the bland direction, stupid scripts, and tepid acting that usually accompany these modern comedies.  Sure, these films all have their funny moments, but honestly, who are we fooling?

While some modern directors (Wes Anderson or Spike Jonze for example) do aim earnestly for more sophisticated humor, the simple truth is that Hollywood has dialed down the standards of its comedies to target a younger and more adolescent demography.  Nowadays, Hollywood just does it oh-so-wrong...

How, then, did Hollywood used to do it so-very-right?  Well first, you need to have a solid comedic lead, someone with impeccable timing and tremendous charisma.  Many of the supposed male stars today have the on-screen charisma of a dead tree stump (cough cough Ben Affleck cough).  Ah, but with someone like Cary Grant in the lead, now we're talking!  Next, you need a solid supporting cast.  The accomplished and ever-reliable British trouper Trevor Howard is a perfect foil for Cary Grant, as is a delightful musical/comedy staple like Leslie Caron.  Then, you pick a wonderful setting with a dash of romance and adventure, such as a South Pacific Isle during World War II.  And finally, you need a really super script, like Peter Stone's hilarious, 1964 Oscar-winning screenplay.  Mix it all together, and you have Father Goose, one of Hollywood's finest classic comedies.

Cary Grant, in superb form indeed, plays Walter Eckland, a crabby, irascible, and washed-out beachcomber stuck around the Australian waters during the height of World War II.  With the Japanese soon to arrive en masse, and the British fleeing, naval officers are desperate to recruit island spotters to spy on enemy aerial maneuvers.  Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) notices his old friend Eckland, nonchalantly making off with British petrol for his boat, and decides to "recruit" him, rather involuntarily, to a vacated post on Matalava Island.  This involves some friendly sweet-talking accompanied by Houghton ramming his command ship into Eckland's boat to ensure that Eckland will stay put.  A further incentive of hide-and-seek with whiskey bottles scattered on Matalava ensures that Eckland will actually bother to keep a look-out for enemy planes.  To this end, the witticisms exchanged over radio communiqué by the ever-exasperated Eckland, codename Mother Goose, and the ever-bemused Houghton, codename Big Bad Wolf, are absolutely priceless.  If the entire film were about nothing more than this game of radio tag played out between Cary Grant and Trevor Howard, it would already be a classic.

But wait, the plot thickens!  Perry, a fellow spotter on Bundy Island, has sighted Japanese soldiers landing on his island and requests immediate evacuation.  Eckland is the only person close enough to reach Bundy Island in time, so Houghton contacts Eckland with a deal - if he is willing to pick up Perry by boat and bring him back to Matalava, Houghton will arrange for Perry to take over Eckland's post.  Of course, with his boat out of commission, Eckland's only option is his small dinghy.  Nevertheless, the prospect of finally being replaced sends Eckland quickly scooting out to sea.  Things are not as they seem on Bundy Island however, and instead of Perry, Eckland ends up bringing back young school-marm Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) and seven young girls in an overloaded dinghy that threatens to sink imminently.  I have to admit, I love that dinghy!  It is such a wonderful prop for the film and is the source of many funny sight gags and hilarious lines.

Once Freneau and her children reach Matalava, the film really shifts into high gear!  Eckland is still stuck, except now he has unwanted company.  Eckland's laid-back and gruff personality, matched against Freneau's well-behaved mannerisms (earning her the codename Goody-Two-Shoes), serves as a source of wonderful comedic friction.  He doesn't understand how she even ended up on Bundy Island with the children, and since no one wants to stay on Matalava anyways, the situation becomes ripe for great comedy.

Peter Stone's screenplay really delivers, too!  This is a film set during WWII, so there are a few action sequences and several genuinely suspenseful moments.  But, Father Goose never strays far from comedy.  While the plot is to some degree predictable, the exceptional screenplay is so disarmingly charming that Father Goose is a delight from start to end.  The performances by everyone involved are so much fun that you end up really caring about these characters, and Father Goose becomes a film that can be enjoyed multiple times without any loss of appreciation.

I shall not give away any more of the fun in store, but suffice it to say that *this* is how comedies should be made.  Now if only someone from Hollywood would listen...

Video ** 1/2  

Father Goose is presented in its original condition but does not really require any major restoration.  Other than a few minor scratches, timing dots, and those unavoidable dust specks (none of which detract from the viewing in the least), the source print for the DVD is in remarkably fine shape for a film almost 40 years old.  Colors are bright and chipper, thanks to the wonderful Technicolor processing.   The on-location shots look really beautiful, from the gorgeous clear blue seas to the lush green island flora.  In fact, the film is simply so pretty that Matalava seems just the sort of tropical paradise on which you would love to spend a vacation!

Alas, there is a minor problem, as seems to always be the case with Artisan's lower-end DVDs.  Artisan's transfers often suffer from poor mastering, which usually manifests itself as pixelation, shaky images, awful grain, shimmering or a handful of other woes.  Fortunately, Father Goose has a rock-solid image with minimal grain.  However, edges (especially diagonal ones) are a problem and seem to have frequent attacks of the "jaggies."  Don't get me wrong - the film's image is still pleasant and extremely watchable, especially if your TV has a "movie" video option to soften up the image (my Sony Trinitron can do this).  But, if it doesn't, those jagged edges might be a potential source of irritation.

Audio **

The film has a mono 2.0 soundtrack.  It is adequate and clean and does a fine job.  But that's about it.  Don't expect any aural fireworks.

Features *

There is a short section on cast and crew, plus some filmographies.  And while there are no subtitles, the DVD does have excellent English close-captioning, if your TV is capable of displaying them.  It's better than nothing.

Summary:

Father Goose is a truly fun comedy that the entire family can actually enjoy many times over without any embarrassment.  Done in a classic "here's-how-they-used-to-do-it" style, it is a sheer delight from start to finish.  If you like good-natured and charming comedies, this film is the one for you.  Highly recommended!