Friday, 1 May 2015

Film Friday: "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1963)

Since this week's "Film Friday" coincides with Glenn Ford's 99th birthday, I thought I'd tell you about one of my favorites of his films. I think this was also the first Glenn Ford film I ever saw.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Vincente Minnelli, The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963) follows Eddie Corbett (Ronny Howard), a six-and-a-half-year-old boy who is determined to find a new wife for his recently widowed father, Tom (Glenn Ford). Eddie wants his father to date their attractive next-door neighbor Elizabeth Marten (Shirley Jones), but he fails to interest Tom in a relationship with her.

One day, Eddie meets sweet beauty pageant contestant Dollye Daly (Stella Stevens) and strikes up a friendship with her. At first, she seems promising, but she ends up falling in love with Norman Jones (Jerry Van Dyke), a disk-jockey who works with Tom at the radio station.

Tom then become attracted to a sophisticated fashion consultant named Rita Behrens (Dina Merrill). Eddie takes an instant dislike to her, as she doesn't seem to know how to deal with a boy his age. When his father announces that he plans to marry Rita, Eddie runs away from summer camp and takes refuge in Elizabeth's apartment. In the end, Tom breaks off his engagement with Rita and Eddie is finally able to make his father undertstand that Elizabeth is the best possible choice for a wife.
Eddie Corbett: Skinny eyes and big busts is how you tell a bad lady from a good one.

By the early 1960s, Hollywood was in a state of great turmoil. Television had managed to break the film industry's hegemony in entertainment and studios now aimed to create the kind of productions that could not be offered by the small screen: spectacular, larger-than-life epics. After the great financial and critical success of its Technicolor historical drama Ben-Hur (1959), MGM fell into a habit of producing one big-budget epic each year. After Cimarron (1960), King of Kings (1961), The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) failed to achieve to same kind of success as William Wyler's epic, MGM experienced several internal changes, which seemed to temporarily revive the studio. One of those changes had to do with the kind of contract offered to their players, old and new. 

In 1962, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had very few artists on long-term contracts and even longtime employees like director Vincente Minnelli found themselves being offered multipicture deals instead of new contracts when their old ones expired. Under a new exclusive contract, Minnelli was to head his own production company, Venice Productions, and make six pictures over the next four years. The Courtship of Eddie's Father was Minnelli's first film on his new deal with the studio.

Glenn Ford also had a multipicture deal with MGM and was chosen to play the role of widower Tom Corbett. He had appeared in Minnelli's previous film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962), which was an outstanding disaster both financially and critically, partly due to Ford's miscasting as an Argentine playboy. Tom Corbett seemed to be a much more suitable role for him and he received good reviews for his efforts, including from Minnelli, who called his performance true and touching.

Co-star Shirley Jones, who had been his fan for years and considered him to be one of the greatest actors of his generation, was thrilled to be working with Ford.

He had a quality on film, a naturalness, that was remarkable, and it made working with him a pleasure. Much like Jimmy Stewart, he brought his own nuances to a character. Whatever he said sounded as if he had just thought of it, as if he had never looked at a script. That is a marvelous quality to have.
(Shirley Jones)

Howard and Ford between takes
For the role of the precocious Eddie, Minnelli cast 8-year-old Ronny Howard, who had come to prominence playing Opie Taylor in the successful CBS sitcom The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968) and had just appeared in the Best Picture-nominated film The Music Man (1962). 

Everyone working on the film was fascinated by little Ronny and had nothing but praise to say about him. Shirley Jones, who had previously played his older sister in The Music Man, was impressed by how accomplished and professional the young actor was.

He was probably the most perfect child actor I think I've ever worked with, and I've worked with a lot of them. Because he was really a little adult, and not yet the kind we call little brats: he wasn't that at all. He was really a marvelous kid, very bright, very funny.
(Shirley Jones)

The little boy-wonder, of course, grew up to be the amazing Ron Howard, star of the influential coming-of-age film American Graffiti (1973) and of another hugely successful television series, Happy Days (1974-1984), which is one of my favorite shows of all time, as well as director of several cinematic masterpieces, such as Apollo 13 (1995), A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Rush (2013). In case you haven't noticed, I'm a fan.

Released in March 1963, The Courtship of Eddie's Father garnered generally favorable reviews, but failed to make a profit. It did, however, inspire a television sitcom of the same name, which ran on ABC from 1969 until 1972 and starred Bill Bixby as Tom Corbett and Brandon Cruz as his son Eddie.

Though The Courtship of Eddie's Father is a little dated in its attitudes toward women, it is a thoroughly enjoyable film. Glenn Ford is wonderful as Tom Corbett and his leading ladies are all stunning, but to me the sole star of the film is little Ronny Howard. At just 8 years old, he was already an amazing actor and handled his role beautifully, showing both great comedic sense and genuine heartfelt emotion. I also love the fact that there seems to be a true father-son relationship between Ford and Ronny, which in the end turned the film into a really tender and poignant story.

A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli by Mark Griffin (2010) | Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon... and Beyond by Beverly Gray (2003) | Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer by Emanuel Levy (2009) | TCMDb (Articles)

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