Cary Grant was one of the few actors to defy the effects of aging. The older he got, the more popular his films became. By the late 1950s Grant had become uncomfortable making movies because he realized audiences only wanted to see him as a romantic lead and he felt self-conscious about studio insistence that he be seen on screen romancing female leads who were often decades younger than him. Nonetheless, Grant kept forestalling his frequent vows to retire from acting. He had taken much more control over his career by forming his own production company and the result were some of the biggest hits of his career ("Operation Petticoat", "That Touch of Mink", "Charade"). Grant's primary motivation for not retiring was his desire- or rather, obsession- with winning an Oscar. Alfred Hitchcock had advised him that the best way to do so was to get away from playing the typical Cary Grant type on film and choose a role that was opposite from his usual image. Grant thought this was an inspired idea and agreed to star in a promising vehicle titled "Father Goose", which was written by Peter Stone, the screenwriter of Grant's megahit "Charade". The WWII era comedy would allow Grant to give a tour-de-force performance as Walter Eckland, an amiable, scrubby beach bum who intends to sit out the war in the South Pacific by lazing about getting drunk all day. His tropical paradise is threatened when he is dragooned into service as a coast watcher by his old crony Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) of the Australian Navy, who informs Walter that he is cutting off his supply of booze unless he makes frequent reports on Japanese ship movements. Each time he does so, Frank will reveal where another bottle of liquor has been hidden. Walter reluctantly concedes, not out of patriotism, but out of personal inability to last long without a drink. (The banter over the radio between Grant and Howard is priceless). Things get complicated, however, when Walter ends up having to rescue a group of young schoolgirls and their teacher, Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) after they have been shipwrecked on a nearby island. Most of the predictable fun comes from watching Grant's W.C. Fields-like persona having to cope with his young charges as well as their strict teacher, who forbids him from engaging in his generally deviant behavior. Grumpy and unshaven, Grant appears as he never had on film before and he gives one of the best performances of his career. He supposedly felt awkward in the inevitable love scenes with Caron, who was young enough to be his daughter, but the chemistry works on film. Grant's Walter is also a reluctant hero in the mode of Humphrey Bogart's Rick from "Casablanca". He's late to the challenge of doing his bit for the war effort, but he naturally comes through in the end. The film runs almost two hours but it's kept at a breezy pace by the talents of director Ralph Nelson and the jaunty score by Cy Coleman (including the memorable song "Pass Me By") adds immeasurably to the fun.
The Olive Films Blu-ray special edition has some impressive bonus extras. They include an audio commentary by ubiquitous film historian David DelValle. As someone who has recorded numerous audio commentaries, I always find they play out better when I invite other film scholars to join me. Oft times, a single commentator can delve into dull, professorial discussions. However, DelValle defies the odds and his solo track is thoroughly engaging and informative. DelValle did his homework and got access to Cary Grant's personal script from "Father Goose", which adds some insights into his mindset during filming. Additionally, he quotes liberally from Leslie Caron's memoirs about the making of the film, providing candid observations about Grant's unpredictable on-set mood swings. There is also an on-camera interview with Grant biographer Marc Elliott that is very interesting, though Elliott gets his facts wrong when he attributes Grant's late career traveling one-man stage shows as an inspiration for the Academy finally granting him an honorary Oscar. In fact, Grant's Oscar was presented to him in 1970, more than a decade before he initiated his stage appearances. Nevertheless, he provides some fascinating insights into Grant's personal life. There is also a filmed interview with Ted Nelson, son of director Ralph Nelson, who correctly points out how talented his father was- and indeed, how underrated Nelson's contributions to TV and movies of the era were. There is also a 1964 newsreel that includes the funeral of President Herbert Hoover followed by Leslie Caron receiving the "Star of the Year" award from American theater owners. Rounding out the package is a fine essay about "Father Goose" Village Voice writer Bilge Ebiri.
Cary Grant never got a competitive Oscar and indeed was never even nominated for "Father Goose", though Peter Stone won for his screenplay. Yet, he had the satisfaction of seeing the movie become a major hit. He would make only one more film- "Walk, Don't Run"- before going into retirement, leaving a legacy few other actors have equaled.
Olive Films used to take a lot of heat from retro movie lovers for putting out classic movies in bare-bones video editions. Looks like they got the memo because their recent releases feature highly impressive bonus features, as evidenced by this first rate edition of "Father Goose".