Release Date(s)1963 (May 30, 2023)
Studio(s)MGM (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Studios will often market a film to suggest that it falls into a neat category. Advertising campaigns are easier if a single aspect of the film can be exploited. Such is the case with The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, sold to the public as a comedy. The film, however, also explores family loss, with scenes that veer from jokes to authentic reactions after a loved one dies.
Tom Corbett (Glenn Ford, Gilda), the manager of a New York City radio station, is a recent widower raising his young son Eddie (Ronny Howard, American Graffiti) as best he can. Although Eddie still has difficulty coping with his Mom’s death, he would like his father to remarry and be happy.
There are three women in Tom’s life. Elizabeth Marten (Shirley Jones, Carousel), their neighbor across the hall, is a divorcee who was Eddie’s mother’s best friend. Dollye Daly (Stella Stevens, The Poseidon Adventure) is a smart and shapely Montana beauty trying to remedy her utter lack of self-confidence in the big city. Rita Behrens (Dina Merrill, Operation Petticoat) is a fashion consultant and socialite with self-confidence to spare.
Little Eddie has opportunities to size up each of these women as a potential wife for his Dad and stepmother for himself. When we first see him, he’s a normal kid dealing with loss. As the film progresses, he turns out to be instrumental in steering his father to the best choice.
Ford balances Tom’s soft-spoken and easygoing nature with his still-palpable sense of loss as he tries to be both Mom and Dad to Eddie while working and managing a social life. These pressures often compete and conflict and sometimes he loses his temper as a result, but always concern for his son’s welfare comes first and this makes him sympathetic. We want the best for him as well as for little Eddie.
Shirley Jones, looking lovely, is excellent as Elizabeth, an aspiring nurse who always seems to be on hand when a crisis occurs. She and Eddie have a great rapport and she often looks after him when Tom is out. Practical, smart, and self-assured, she often serves as an anchor when Tom struggles with the day-today responsibilities of caring for a young child.
Stella Stevens has fun with her role of Dollye, a flashy young woman with more depth than she projects. With several hidden talents, she’s the most accomplished of the three women but projects an innocence that contrasts with the flaming red hair, tight dresses, and drop-dead looks. She underplays for best comic effect as she goes on a date with Tom, little Eddie in tow. Dollye could have been a caricature but Stevens makes her real.
Dina Merrill’s Rita is interested in Tom but Eddie perceives that her attempts at ingratiating herself to him are artificial. Put off by Eddie’s coolness toward her, Rita actually suggests that Tom send the boy to live with relatives, “at least for a while.” If the film has a villain, she would be it, because we see her as Eddie does. Judging her by illustrations in the comic books he reads, Eddie is suspicious of her because she has “skinny eyes.” Rita is typical of the kinds of roles Merrill played—affluent, attractive, elegant, self-confident, and cool.
Though Ford and Jones are top-billed, this is easily Ronny Howard’s film. The film unfolds from his point of view and he’s such an accomplished actor that he conveys every emotion the script calls for. In a role that could have become overly sentimental, Howard avoids obvious acting choices, often remaining upbeat as Eddie makes it his goal to assure his father will select a mate who will make him happy. He’s completely natural and never exhibits affectations. In a scene when he discovers that one of his goldfish has died, Eddie, still raw from his mother’s death, reacts hysterically, and the moment is shocking since we’ve never seen him so distressed. Howard’s range is amazing for a 9-year-old, and he easily shoulders the role’s dramatic and emotional requirements. He sells every one of his scenes. Howard made this film on hiatus from The Andy Griffith Show, a year after acting in the film version of The Music Man.
Supporting performers include Jerry Van Dyke (Palm Springs Weekend) as one of the radio station’s disc jockeys with a penchant for making dates on the air, and Roberta Sherwood as Mrs. Livingston, an upbeat housekeeper who also cares for Eddie. Written to be amusingly eccentric, this character is right out of sit-com territory. Mrs. Livingston totes a portable phonograph to play Spanish lessons so she can understand what her daughter and son-in-law say about her when she visits them in South America. The character does offer some comic moments but Sherwood’s broad delivery contrasts with Ford and Howard’s more restrained performances. Rance Howard (Ronny’s real-life father) appears briefly as a camp counselor.
Director Vincente Minnelli, who spent his entire career at MGM, is best known for musicals such as Meet Me in St. Louis and An American in Paris. But he acquits himself admirably in this family film with a bit of an edge. He could be sentimental but here he keeps a good balance, providing enough conflict to drive the narrative and make us care about the characters. He certainly elicited a superb performance from young Ronny Howard.
The film was so successful that it inspired a TV series of the same name that ran for three seasons, 1969-1972. It starred Bill Bixby and Brandon Cruz as the father and son, with Miyoshi Umeki as Mrs. Livingston.
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father was shot by director of photography Milton R. Krasner on 35 mm color film with Panavision lenses and presented in the widescreen format of 2.35:1. The Blu-ray is sourced from a new 4K scan of the camera negative. Detail is exceptional and the color palette vibrant, with reds in curtains, Jerry Van Dyke’s vest, tablecloths and pillows particularly impressive. Background set decoration after Eddie and his father leave a movie theater is intricate and colorful, with lots of extras adding activity. When they enter an arcade, I was reminded of the bustling 42nd Street arcade Fred Astaire dances around in The Band Wagon (also directed by Vincente Minnelli). Ronny Howard and Stella Stevens’ red hair photograph nicely. Rita’s apartment is mauve and white, suggesting affluence and elegance. The three women sport different hair colors—blonde, brunette, and red—a conscious choice by Minnelli. Blacks are deep, rich, and velvety. The women look great in William Tuttle’s make-up, Sydney Guilaroff’s hair styles, and Helen Rose’s attractive, stylish dresses. Howard’s peaches-and-cream young face, Ford’s tanned, rugged face, and the women’s smooth, flawless complexions are well rendered. Process photography showing a street and traffic through the rear window of a stationery car is used to suggest the car is in motion.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, sourced from the original mono magnetic master. English SDH subtitles are an available option for the main feature but not for the extras. Dialogue is clear and distinct in every scene. An outdoor scene when Eddie is at camp was shot indoors, and a slight soundstage echo can be heard. Eddie’s blood-curdling scream when he discovers his dead fish is terrifying, as it occurs off-screen at first and various characters run to see what’s wrong. Ambient music and noise are heard in supper club scenes. Mrs. Livingston’s record blares Spanish lessons as she tends to her duties in the Corbett household. Stella Stevens has a great scene in which she performs a pretty intricate drum solo. George Stoll’s score has a familiar 60s vibe, and avoids stereotypically sentimental chords in favor of more upbeat phrases.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release from Warner Archive include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Shirley Jones, Dina Merrill, and Stella Stevens
- Pent-House Mouse (7:15)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:57)
Audio Commentary – The three female stars of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father share this commentary. They discuss their roles and give their impressions of director Vincente Minnelli. Jones, who had admired Minnelli’s musicals, was thrilled to be working with him. All three agree that he was often more interested in sets and beautiful pictures than in performances and seldom gave detailed direction. He also had mannerisms that distracted the actors. Jones believes her Academy Award for Elmer Gantry allowed her to be considered for non-musical, dramatic roles. All speak highly of Ronny Howard’s professionalism on set. He knew his lines perfectly and would talk with his actor father, Rance, before a scene was to be filmed, but Rance never undermined Minnelli’s authority as director. Between scenes, young Howard was tutored. The actresses note that Glenn Ford was a “sweet guy to work with.” His on-screen persona differed from that in real-life. Shirley Jones compares working on the stage, in movies, and on TV. Even though the hours are long, she prefers movie work. Dina Merrill talks about making a movie at a studio, where different departments contributed to the making of the picture. Audiences could identify with the characters in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father because what they said was so real, a nod to screenwriter John Gay.
Pent-House Mouse – In this 1963 Tom & Jerry cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, Tom is living the life of luxury high atop a fancy apartment building. Jerry is starving way down below when he spots a lunchbox on a girder at a construction site. Jerry goes in, the girder goes up, and the lunchbox falls off, landing on Tom, and the chase is on. Mel Blanc provides the voices.
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father has stood the test of time quite well. Unlike many films of the early 60s, it doesn’t suffer from dated references, tired jokes, or cheap sentimentality. Performances, for the most part, are excellent, and the combination of drama and comedy give it the ring of authenticity.
- Dennis Seuling