Archive for Shirley Jones

The Low Sixties

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2021 by dcairns

The fifties died hard, were still going strong in 1963, is my main takeaway from THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER, directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by John Gay from Mark Toby’s novel. It’s an everyday story of real people, brought to you by filmmakers who have apparently never met any. Every note is jarring, and yet a number of them do connect to human experience, but in an off-kilter, disjointed way. Future historians will look at this movie and try to calculate how much is accurate social observation, how much is soap opera contrivance.

Glenn Ford is a recent widower living in New York with his son, the director of THE DA VINCI CODE. He produces or does something involving a radio show whose horndog disc jockey, Jerry Van Dyke (an uncanny genetic facsimile of brother Dick) urges him to remarry. It’s been, what, a month?

Three women are wheeled past to tempt our bereaved patriarch: Stella Stevens, a beauty queen from Montana who has come to the Small Apple (it’s all interior sets) to Gain Confidence; Dina Merrill, a careerist fashion consultant; Shirley Jones, the student nurse next door. The outcome is obvious — the writers think they’re smart by making Jones a divorcee with a potential career and having her argue a lot with Ford, but they haven’t counted on the casting of Jones, who is naturally soft and appealing. And she’s right all the time, and she’s already basically acting as mother to the director of APOLLO 13. Plus she’s right across the hall. The fact that she could be Ford’s daughter is no doubt to be considered a plus. His last wife died, after all, we want this one to be longer-lasting. And ultimately the disqualifying traits almost cancel each other out — she’s resorted to a career to help get over the divorce — presumably she’ll be only too happy to give up that silly girlish idea when she becomes Mrs. Eddie’s Father.

Cherishable moments include Merrill declaring she doesn’t want to be the woman BEHIND the man, but side by side with him, and Ford saying he doesn’t see that becoming a national movement anytime soon. Oh Glenn.

Psychodrama! The director of HILLBILLY ELEGY freaks out at the sight of a belly-up goldfish. Jones deduces it’s because he hasn’t grieved for his mother yet, and Ford freaks out at that — “A FISH — IS A FISH — AND HIS MOTHER — IS HIS MOTHER!” Complete with Dramatic Turn and music stab.

Ford and Minnelli are reunited immediately after the superflop FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, and obviously the intention is to spend a lot less money on this one, but it seems like wasted money since the soap and sitcom elements are exactly what the public can see at home on TV, only here they’re in a somewhat peculiar combination.

The director of A BEAUTIFUL MIND is clearly a prodigious sprog, child-actorly in mode but very skilled in his mimicry and timing, a carrot-topped replicant. Ford embodies the fifties-style paterfamilias more effectively, I bet, than he did “a hot young Argentinian stud” as David Wingrove put it, in his previous Minnelli epic. But it’s not a very appealing archetype to me.

Minnelli might be expected to regard this very square set-up with veiled horror — his comedies tend to have the quality of nightmare (FATHER OF THE BRIDE contains an actual nightmare which uses the “stairs as swamp” image repeated in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET; THE LONG, LONG TRAILER turns sitcom into pure anxiety dream, a cold sweat of a film). Here, there’s just a sort of chilly lack of enthusiasm in the visuals. A late scene where Ford and the director of FROST/NIXON roleplay a prospective conversation with Shirley Jones, with the director of CINDERELLA MAN taking the Jones part, is clearly meant to be cute, and it is, but it’s also kind of weird, like everything else.

My favourite presence in the film was Stella Stevens, and my favourite scene was her big one — comparable to Shirley MacLaine’s adorable drunken singing in SOME CAME RUNNING, and the only scene where Minnelli the great musical director has really propitious material. Dick Van Dyke’s brother tries to boost her confidence by getting her to do the drum solo she’s been scared to do. Everyone knocks it out of the park.

Lo!

My copy of the film played once then gave up the ghost, which is why so few images here. Fortunately there are lots of clips online.