The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father

THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER did just mild business in 1963, and critics saw it as another step down for its director, Vincente Minnelli. But the gentle mix of humor and sentiment struck a chord with many who did see it, and fans hold fond memories of the picture, which also inspired a 1969-72 TV series with Bill Bixby. John Gay’s script adapted a novel by Mark Toby. *

‘Tom Corbett’ (Glenn Ford) is an executive at a Manhattan-based radio station. He’s also a widower with a cute, smart and loving son in ‘Eddie’ (Ronny Howard), who in due time plays matchmaker for his dad. The choices boil down to divorced neighbor ‘Elizabeth Marten’ (Shirley Jones), a sweet nurse who dotes on the boy—she’s Eddie’s front-runner—and socialite ‘Rita Behrens’ (Dina Merrill), favored by Tom. A third possibility, Montana gal ‘Dollye Daly’ (Stella Stevens), an offbeat knockout, attracts the attention of ‘Norman Jones’ (Jerry Van Dyke), Tom’s  d.j. pal and self-styled lothario.

Going in, just from the casting and characters, it’s not hard to see who’ll Tom end up with, but it’s a pleasant enough trip down rom-com nostalgia lane, with some typical early 60’s sex innuendo sprinkled in, cute this time rather than leery. The comic end is leavened with treating the grief of the deceased spouse and mother seriously, and pro Ford, 46, dials both shades well, more relaxed than his turns in the earlier Cry For Happy and Pocketful Of MiraclesJones is spirited (no singing in this one, which pleased her) without being syrupy or coy and Merrill does well as the more aggressive and austere career woman (a given in the era that ‘career women’ were aggressive & austere if not just downright bitchy). Watching Stevens steal every scene she’s in, you can’t help but wonder about the state of Eddie’s father’s libido; this fun role made a neat two-fer with her work in The Nutty Professor that same year. Van Dyke, 31, was getting pushed in ’63, with goofy parts in McLintock! and Palm Springs Weekend. He didn’t get traction like his brother Dick.

EDDIE: “You know, like those ladies in the comic books who are no good. They always got skinny eyes.”  TOM: “Skinny eyes. Anything else?”  EDDIE: “Well, there’s one other thing, but… it’s about sex.”  TOM: “Go ahead. I can stand it.”  EDDIE: “Well, the bad ladies, they always got big busts. Now, don’t get mad, Dad, but it’s true. Very big. Skinny eyes, and big busts is how you tell a bad lady from a good one.

But the hands down winner in the cast is Ron Howard. Ronny, 9, had just knocked back smiles in The Music Man (with Jones) and here displays real, seemingly natural flair, not just in the funny material but more so when he gets to show some impressive dramatic chops: his panicky screaming scene is outstanding.

Yes, predictable, a bit longish at 118 minutes, and not much of a vehicle, let alone a stretch, for a director with a track record like Minnelli, but the good work from the cast makes for pleasant entertainment. The gross, $5,400,000, ranked 54th for the year. With Roberta Sherwood, Vito Scotti, Lee Meriwether, Clint Howard (debut, age 3).

* The film’s ‘safe’ subject matter and lukewarm reception had critics convinced the stylistically flamboyant Minnelli had lost his touch, following Two Weeks In Another Town, which was drubbed and lost money and then The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, a huge flop critically and commercially. His next, the puerile farce Goodbye Charlie earned more dough but was reviewer ripped, and they excoriated The Sandpiper, but the public ate that melodrama up thanks to the Liz & Dick combo.

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