As the second-to-last film in Cary Grant's long and illustrious career, Ralph Nelson's Father Goose (1964) found both the actor and his character, professional alcoholic Walter Eckland, in unfamiliar territory. Grant famously played against type here: sporting rumpled clothes, a week's worth of facial scruff, and a grumpy demeanor, Eckland is far from the dashing, debonair image Grant carved out for himself during the previous three decades. Eckland's unfamiliar territory, on the other hand, is far more literal: he's stuck on deserted Matalava Island in the middle of World War II, roped into being a watcher for Japanese bombers by his old friend, Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard, The Third Man).
Eckland's still independent, at least, but not for long: while on the hunt for a replacement watcher stationed on a nearby island, he encounters marooned schoolteacher Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) and her seven young French students. He takes them back to his home shelter, obviously not thrilled with the prospect of babysitting...and even more so when Houghton tells him a rescue won't be coming anytime soon. So, as bad luck would have it, Eckland, Freneau, and the girls are stuck with one another: they're obviously not fond of his boorish, drunken demeanor, and he's been pursuing a quiet life at sea for a reason. Yet as the days and weeks go by, they almost kind-of end up tolerating one another and, in a rare stroke of good will, form a makeshift family unit while hoping to bring out the best in one another.
This change doesn't happen in a day, and that's just one of many things Father Goose gets right. The main draw here is seeing Cary Grant play gleefully against type, which came at the suggestion of Alfred Hitchcock when asked for the best strategy to win an Academy Award (it didn't work, although S. H. Barnett, Peter Stone, and Frank Tarloff picked up statues for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay). Leslie Caron holds her own as the chief roadblock for Eckland's miserable (?) existence; despite their almost 30-year age difference---which makes this as much a generation gap comedy as it does a battle of the sexes---she had already built a successful career that would last another five decades. The film's terrific pacing gives its characters plenty of time to breathe and develop, with no shortage of painfully funny one-liners and witty retorts. Waldon O. Watson and Ted J. Kent also earned Oscar nominations for sound design and editing.
Beautifully shot on location in Jamaica by noted cinematographer Charles Lang (Some Like it Hot, The Magnificent Seven), Father Goose has always looked good on home video. It looks better than ever on Olive's new Signature Edition Blu-ray, which aims to replace their own their own 2013 Blu-ray and does so with flying colors. It's sourced from a new restoration of the original negative, sounds quite impressive, and arrives with a handful of thoughtful, informative new extras that, not surprisingly, tend to focus on Grant's hands-on approach to many aspects of the production.
Advertised as "a new restoration of the original negative from a 4K scan", Father Goose looks extremely good on Olive's new 1080p transfer (and a great deal better than their own 2013 Blu-ray, which was fairly decent at the time). Overall depth, color saturation, and image detail are outstanding here; dense jungle isn't always the most forgiving location, but the cinematography by Charles Lang is consistently impressive and really enhances the film's exotic atmosphere. Shadow detail and black levels are also quite good, and no obvious digital imperfections (compression artifacts, noise reduction, etc.) could be spotted along the way. In fact, the only nitpicks for videophiles are mild but fairly persistent white specks during a handful of scenes and a few color pulses (green, usually) that appear to be source-related. But overall, it's almost all great news here and die-hard fans of Father Goose should be pleased with its new face-lift.
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Not to be outdone is the film's DTS-HD 2.0 mix (split mono), which sounds unusually robust and dynamic for a film of this age. Dialogue is crisp and clear, with well-balanced background effects and a modest amount of depth at crucial moments along the way. Obviously, no major defects were heard here---and though one scene sounded like there was slight hissing in the background, it could've been wind (or a green tree branch, har har). Optional English subtitles have been included during the film only, which are always welcome. Now how about including them for the extras as well?
The interface includes chapter access, subtitle setup, and extras. Loading time is fast with no trailers or advertisements beforehand, aside from the company logo. Unlike standard Olive releases, this "Signature" line arrives in a clear keepcase with double-sided artwork, a matching slipsleeve, and a Booklet with an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri.
Unlike the bare-bones 2013 Blu-ray, Olive's new Signature Edition of Father Goose offers a number of valuable extras. The first is an exclusive new Audio Commentary with film historian and author David Del Valle, who talks about seeing Father Goose in the theater, Cary Grant's complete involvement in the production, playing against type, the actors later years and personal life, shooting on location in Jamaica, casting the young girls, stunt work, and much more. It's a well-organized and informative track, balancing fun trivia about the cast and crew with technical comments for more serious fans.
Though not entirely film-specific, another highlight of the new extras is "Unfinished Business: Cary Grant's Search for Fatherhood and His Oscar" (19:13). Hosted by author Marc Eliot (Cary Grant: A Biography), it's an enjoyable featurette that details the actor's later career, almost retiring after Operation Petticoat, receiving the script for Charade, meeting Dyan Cannon, taking on Father Goose, changing the film's ending, and more. A second featurette, "My Father" (11:25), has designer Ted Nelson speaking about his father Ralph Nelson and how the director's work influenced his own.
Last but not least, we get a brief but fascinating Newsreel from the week of October 26, 1964 (2:32) concerning the funeral of former President Herbert Hoover at age 90 and an award win for Leslie Caron during Father Goose's release. Unfortunately, the entertaining (and spoiler-heavy!) trailer is nowhere to be found, but you can watch it here.
Father Goose is a charismatic, charming battle of the sexes that's aged exceptionally well during the last five decades, thanks to its top-notch script and winning lead performances. Cary Grant is simply fantastic here as a perpetually drunken ex-teacher cheated out of a solitary existence, with Leslie Caron and her brood providing a perfect foil for his whiskey-soaked shenanigans. It's almost gotten better with age and will earn plenty of future spins, while Olive's well-rounded new "Signature Edition" plays to the film's obvious strengths. Featuring a top-tier A/V presentation and a handful of informative new bonus features (nearly all of which are exclusive to this release, mind you), it's an easy replacement for their own 2013 Blu-ray and a no-brainer for fans and curious newcomers alike. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.