Thursday, August 31, 2017

DUELING MOVIES: Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) vs. Father Goose (1964)


                “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” was based on a novel by Charles Shaw.  John Huston and John Lee Martin adapted the screenplay and Huston directed.  Huston and 20th Century Fox envisioned it as a successor to “The African Queen”.  You’ll enjoy it more if you forget that.  It stars Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr.  It was the first of their four screen pairings.  They became good friends during the filming as Mitchum bonded with her when she would curse while wearing her nun costume.  She gamely put up with the drunken binges of her director and co-star.  She ended up being nominated for Best Actress.  Huston and Martin were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.  It was a screenplay that was vetted by the National Legion of Decency.  The Catholic Church also had a hand in monitoring the production to protect the image of its nuns.  The movie was filmed on Trinidad and Tobago. The actors to portray the Japanese-speaking soldiers had to be brought in from a Japanese community in Brazil. 

                The movie opens with a stranded Cpl. Allison (Mitchum) coming ashore on a little island in the Pacific.  There is a deserted village, but he meets a lone nun named Sister Angela (Kerr) who maintains the church.  What Allison hopes is an Adam and Eve scenario ends when the Japanese arrive and the duo goes into hiding.  Close proximity and the tension of being prey could lead to something.  If the Catholic Church was not on the set.

                “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” was a popular movie, but as a war movie it is nothing to get excited about.  It is more of a character study than a war film.  There is little suspense, even when Allison sneaks into the Japanese camp.  This is a shame as the situation should have lent itself to some edging to the front of your seat.  The movie is too busy toying with the “will they or won’t they” question.  The leads do have a lot of chemistry and Mitchum and Kerr were great actors, but the moral restraints placed on the script hindered a realistic portrayal of two beautiful people marooned on an island.  Actually, Kerr’s Angela is an authentic character.  Or, what the Catholic Church would have us believe is a typical nun.  As far as Mitchum’s gyrene, we get a family-friendly leatherneck.  He is one of the more saintly Marines you will run into in a war movie.  (Maybe the Marine Corps was on set also.)  Mitchum’s dialogue sounds phony and the romantic arc is unrealistic.  It is rushed due to cinematic time constraints.  We go from “hey lady, get real” to “I never realized how attractive you are” to “let’s make the best of the situation” to “marry me” to “admit it, you want it to” to “I respect you” too patly.  The “supervision” of the film caused a watering down of the theme comparing the Marine Corps to the Catholic Church.  The biggest problem with “Heaven Knows” is that the plot makes little sense.  Specifically, the actions of the Japanese are unrealistic.  (For instance, the Japanese actually invade the island twice!) At least they speak with no subtitles and are not demonized.

                “Father Goose” was Cary Grant’s second-to-last screen role.  He turned down the role of Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” because he wanted to play against his usual suave characters and instead play a role that was close to his actual personality.  Apparently, the real Grant  liked to dress like a bum and yell at kids to get off his lawn.  The movie was directed by Ralph Nelson (“Soldier Blue”).  The screenplay was an adaptation of the short story “A Place of Dragons” by S.H. Barnett.  Peter Stone and Frank Tarloff won an Oscar for the screenplay.  The movie was nominated for Film Editing and Sound.  The song “Pass Me By” was not nominated but was later a hit for Peggy Lee and was recorded by Frank Sinatra and others.  The movie was filmed in Jamaica.  It was a big hit.

                The movie opens in early 1942 with the Japanese rampaging through the Southwest Pacific.  Walter Eckland (Grant) is a loner who couldn’t care less about the war effort.  He is “recruited” by Commander Broughton (Trevor Howard) of the Royal Australian Navy to be a coast watcher.  The curmudgeonly Eckland is more civilian than most civilians, but he is given no choice.  He is deposited on a deserted island with a radio.  To get him to file periodic reports, Broughton has hidden whiskey bottles and reveals their locations only upon receipt of the reports.  When he is sent to rescue another coast watcher, Eckland instead is saddled with a school teacher named Catherine (Leslie Caron) and her seven girl charges.  The situation is reminiscent of Felix Unger moving in with Oscar except that Felix is a woman and she brings teenage girls with him.  Eckland tops Oscar by being not only a slob, but also an asshole.  Naturally, “Mother Goose” (Eckland’s code name) gets along with “Goody Two Shoes” like an old mutt with a Persian cat.  Eckland hurls a lot of invective such as “you should carry a tambouring and put fig leaves on statues”.  Oh, snap!  These two have as much chance of falling in love as that old mutt and the Persian cat.  Unless this is a movie.

                “Father Goose” is fluff, but it is well done fluff.  The confection has one prime ingredient – Cary Grant.  He has fun playing against type and Caron is an excellent foil.  They have chemistry and this makes the absolutely predictable romance watchable.  Like “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison”, the romantic arc is too rushed, but hell, there’s a war going on.  In most ways, the movie is more of a romantic comedy than a war movie.  As far as the comedy part, the movie is fairly amusing.  Grant gets some funny lines (he had his writers on call), as does Howard.  Although it co-stars the venerable war movie stalwart Howard, his Boughton is mainly there to facilitate the comedy.  He seems to have had fun as well.  It’s not often you get to top a Cary Grant character.  His character is the key to making the movie above average.  For a comedy, it is surprisingly more suspenseful than “Heaven Knows”.  You’re not going to lose sleep, mind you.  Another surprise is that it actually has more of an “The African Queen” vibe than the other movie.  The two main characters are much closer to Charlie and Rose than Allison and Angela are.  Speaking of which, although the script is competent, it hardly deserved an Oscar.  (It beat out “Hard Day’s Night”!)  “The African Queen” was only nominated.

                Both movies are better as movies than war movies.  However, “Father Goose” is more entertaining and less unrealistic in its handling of an unrealistic situation.  At least, there were coast watchers that served in the Pacific.  I wouldn’t say that the movie honors them, however.  “Father Goose” is just more comfortable in the romantic comedy genre than “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” is in the romantic genre.  “Heaven Knows” was crippled by the production code and the blue noses and clergymen who scrutinized it.  It also fumbled the trapped scenario.  The two are very much of their times, but “Father Goose” would fit well into today’s rom-com environment.  “Heaven Knows” is too uptight to find a modern audience. 

GRADES:  Heaven Knows  =  C-

                  Father Goose  =  B-    

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with you on this one. I always enjoy watching Father Goose. But I have to be in a "mood" to watch "Heaven Knows...".


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