Thursday, August 14, 2008

the not-top ten project
a series of posts in which an amateur film critic discusses ten movies he loves, in no particular order, that may or may not be his favorites.

entry #2: Father Goose

Catherine Freneau: [Eckland has sucked the "poison" from Catherine's "snakebite"] Tell me, I would like to know - what did my blood taste like? Walter Eckland: Delicious. Now come on.
Catherine Freneau: No, no, no, I'm serious. What did it taste like?
Walter Eckland: Well how would I know? I'm not a vampire,
Catherine Freneau: Um, was it salty?
Walter Eckland: Mmm, a little salty, yes.
Catherine Freneau: Too salty?
Walter Eckland: No, it was just right.
Catherine Freneau: Oh, no! You thought it was too salty, I can tell! You didn't like it!
[she seems on the verge of crying]
Walter Eckland: I liked it!
Catherine Freneau: Oh, really?
Walter Eckland: Uh-huh, I liked it!
Catherine Freneau: You're not just saying that?
Walter Eckland: Great blood!

It is merely coincidence that the first two entries in my not-top ten project happen to be family films (after all, these titles are brought to you in no particular order). Like The Muppet Movie, though, Father Goose (dir. Ralph Nelson, 1964) is not strictly a "family film," as the term is thought of by many to be synonymous with "kiddie-fare." In fact, while the content of numerous older movies tends to come across as chaste by modern standards, Father Goose has elements that may be perceived as being less suitable for children by (some) contemporary viewers than they were by audiences forty-some-odd years ago. That the film won the 1964 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay is enough to suggest that Father Goose is more sophisticated than the average kids' movie, and the fact that it has fallen into relative obscurity is indicative of the type of film that this project aims to celebrate and draw your attention toward.

To say that the plot is quirky may be a mild understatement: During WWII, a boozy scavenger, Walter Eckland (Cary Grant), is coerced into monitoring enemy aircraft from a small island in the South Pacific. He answers a distress call from a nearby outpost, and a reluctant rescue mission saddles him with unwanted company in the form of a prissy French schoolmarm (Leslie Caron) and the seven young girls whom she tutors. The disciplined lifestyle that this teacher espouses interferes with Walter's primary aim, which is to find and drink numerous bottles of whiskey that have been hidden around the island.

The premise is absurd, but the script is so cohesive that one cannot help but suspend disbelief and accept cinematic plausibility. Recent comedies like The Love Guru and You Don't Mess With the Zohan have proved that a wacky concept alone does not guarantee perpetual laughter or feature length interest from an audience.
Too many filmmakers, these days, seem to think that they can extend a five minute sketch into a two hour extravaganza. Whereas these newer movies attempt to shock us with intermittent penis jokes and gags where we see fish clenched between the cheeks of bare bottoms-- simple gross-out humour-- Father Goose implores us to react to legitimately funny situations that are directly related to the story.

In the four and a half years that I have owned my DVD copy of
Father Goose, it has been on loan to friends and colleagues more than it has been in my possession. I am particularly fond of lending this film to people who swear that they don't like "old movies." Rather than present them with a bona fide classic like Casablanca or Citizen Kane-- films they may feel as if they are supposed to like-- it is more fun to surprise them with this lesser known picture. The cover photo on the DVD (pictured here) is not particularly enticing; many people I know have been repelled from believing that the film might be, in any way, interesting... All the more pleasurable for me when they do finally watch and enjoy it. In one instance, a friend of mine put Father Goose on and, within ten minutes, her entire family had gathered around the TV and they all watched together. The success rate of my little lending experiment is, thus far, 100%. I'm proud of this statistic because I feel as if, in a way, I discovered this hidden gem, and that sharing my enthusiasm for the film with others will earn Father Goose some deserved recognition.

Of course, I have no interest in issuing a smug "I told you so" to reluctant viewers who find that they are, in fact, subject to the allure of an old-timey picture. The infectious charm of Cary Grant and Leslie Caron's performances, after all, is not a difficult sell. And there is an unexpected edge to the film's humour in scenes where Eckland interacts with the children that will likely appeal to fans of modern comedies that elicit laughter by means of politically incorrect scenarios and the celebration of social taboos.

Many of our favourite movies, books, musicians, etc.
do make us feel as if we have some level of proprietary interest, that they are rare commodities, known only to a select few, and we are part of an exclusive group who happen to be in-the-know. Ultimately, though, we take as much pleasure in sharing these works with those closest to us and discovering that they are equally blown away, than we do from reveling in that special feeling of "ownership." Such is my relationship with Father Goose. So I urge you to seek out a copy, even if it means borrowing mine; perhaps you will be the next ardent fan who feels compelled to pass it along to others.

links to
Father Goose
The Muppet Movie

links to purchase:
Father Goose
The Muppet Movie

No comments: