Cary Grant’s second-to-last movie role has him playing a boozy, broken down, self-centered guy who plans to sit out World War II until he gets hornswaggled into being a spotter on a remote island by the crafty Trevor Howard. Those of us who’ve been with Cary for his thirty year career remember him from a variety of great roles in great movies, but most of them involve him being dressed nicely, clean shaven, and with his hair perfectly combed. Father Goose though sees him attempting to stretch his acting chops by look really grubby.
Did I ever believe for a minute that I was really watching a beach bum desperately seeking whiskey even as the Japanese periodically flew patrols over his island? Was I ever convinced that Cary Grant would allow himself to be stationed on an island without a good razor and an ample supply of Vitalis? And was it even possible to believe that he would walk around without socks on? Of course not!
But I still laughed when I was supposed to, still rooted for him and his mismatched gal pal to somehow find a way to overcome both of their respective issues to acknowledge their feelings for each other and to survive the onslaught of the villainous Japanese as they attempted to storm the island. (Is there any better way to depict someone as the very embodiment of evil then to have them trying to kill Cary Grant, Leslie Caron, and seven little schoolgirls?)
Watching Cary deliver his lines, his double takes, feign outrage at the latest doublecross by his military superiors and be flummoxed at being overrun by a group of females is like watching a legendary quarterback take the field with a team that maybe isn’t the greatest, but still manages to guide them flawlessly to victory.
Is the movie a classic? Not by a longshot. Everything about it is completely telegraphed so that you can practically anticipate precisely when each story element will occur. (Oops! Two-thirds of the movie is done – time for the fake crisis that allows both Cary and Leslie to let their guard down and admit their feelings for one another!)
There isn’t a single moment that isn’t entirely predictable here. The comedy isn’t exactly biting or sophisticated and both Cary and Leslie’s falling in love with one another at pretty much the same time seems equally unlikely and sudden. And you know what? I still liked this movie.
If the material lacks originality, Cary is still as familiar with the playbook as anyone ever was and hits everything with the precision of someone who’s done it so well for so long.
Wringing laughs out of his confrontation with the harbormaster who tricks him into joining the war effort at the very beginning of things, Grant draws you in with his breezy portrayal of Walter and just when that element is pretty much played out the movie wisely introduces Leslie Caron and her gaggle of young charges.
If Walter thought that his superior officer was a pain in his whiskey-soaked ass, he ain’t seen nothing until he’s dealt with a kid who has an imaginary friend, another who carries around a cricket bat, and yet another whose reaction to Cary is to bite him whenever she sees him!
Leslie Caron (Gigi) is a perfect foil for Walter since she’s a priggish, repressed woman who is just waiting for the right man to unleash the wild child in her (and if it’s one thing I’ve learned from movies, it’s that that’s what all prim and proper chicks need), while Walter will probably get a little bit cleaned up by her as well as find a new sense of responsibility to someone other than himself. And they say that war is all bad!
Though Leslie is older than when she appeared in Gigi, she still finds herself in the role of pretty young thing being romanced by an old guy. But whereas in Gigi it was particularly creepy since she was clearly underage and the guy looking to get in her pantaloons was French, in Father Goose it never comes off as icky.
Why? Two words: Cary Grant! Sure, he was old enough to be her grandpa, but he wasn’t sleazy about it. He liked her and we know he was a decent sort because he befriended all those little kids and let them help him fix his boat even before he was looking to swab Leslie’s poop deck.
The whole time I’m watching this movie, I’m thinking to myself that if it came out today, they’d probably try to make a inoffensively bland sitcom out of it, kind of a According To Jim meets Gilligan’s Island. And I wouldn’t have a problem watching it. If it starred Cary Grant.
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