The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963): United States – directed by Vincente Minnelli
Not rated by the MPAA – contains some mild discussion about the birds and the bees
Vincente Minnelli was a go-to director for much of his career, assured of financial hits at every turn. And he churned out a number of crowd-pleasers, very few of which have endured as bona fide classics. The Courtship of Eddie’s Father is no exception.
The titular Eddie (Ronny Howard) is a young boy, innocent and naive, for the most part. Early in the film he asks his father, Tom (Glenn Ford), “Is mommy really dead?” When assured by a despondent dad that she is, he replies, in true 50’s/60’s down-home style, “Gosh, gosh.” Eddie is sad that mommy’s gone, but he is also worried about his father.
Tom is a program manager at a local radio station, and during his bereavement leave his friend and radio host Norman (Jerry Van Dyke) took advantage of additional leniency and started asking women out on his show. Norman’s a lady’s man, most certainly, and is also concerned with Tom’s romantic well-being. Before long Tom becomes involved with a number of women in a number of different ways.
Across the hall in the same apartment building is Elizabeth Marten (Shirley Jones), a pleasant divorcee with a penchant for the sweet Eddie. He, too, likes her, and believes she’s a good person because bad ladies have skinny eyes and big busts, according to his comic books.
Dollye Daly (Stella Stevens) does not have skinny eyes, but certainly has a large bust. She innocently wanders into Tom and Eddie’s life at the fair one day. Her unassuming naivety does injustice to her wide range of talents, skills, and intelligence, but she primarily seems like a Marilyn Monroe-type. Norman falls for her lack of pretension more than anyone else, and she is soon out of Tom’s mate-pool.
Finally, there’s Rita Behrens (Dina Merrill), a friend of Tom’s whose affluent lifestyle and sense of propriety fit with Tom’s ideal sense of a woman. But she does have skinny eyes (but not a large bust) and Eddie does not get along with her the same way his father does. Naturally, with three women in the mix, and polygamy ruled out, Tom and Eddie will have a heckuva time sorting out their life together.
The film was popular enough in 1963 to warrant spawning a television series, and it’s easy to see why. Much of it is pleasant as a romantic comedy, and the entire production is fluffy. There are a fair number of questionable moments in the script, such as when summer camp calls and tells Tom that they didn’t want to alarm him, but Eddie’s missing. Either this is stupid, or times have changed a great deal in the past four and a half decades. Perhaps some of both.
There are some interesting discussions of sex in the film, all of them neutered for the six-year old Eddie and 1960’s cinematic sensibilities. Much of it is sly, and nothing specific is ever mentioned. A highlight is when Tom explains women’s measurements to Eddie after he saw an ad in the paper. Through it all there is a slight air of sexism, most of it aimed at the objectification of women, but not harsh enough to be misogynistic.
Outside of Steven’s natural talents (she pulls off the dunderheaded blond who hides a surprising intelligence rather well, and is remarkably attractive) Ronny Howard steals the show. Liberated from the black and white filming of “The Andy Griffith Show,” his red-hair and incredible talent are a standout. He has the best lines in the film, and at one point after the death of a goldfish his screaming is so intense and his hyperventilating so realistic that it’s almost frightening.
There is little wrong with The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, other than that it doesn’t aim very high. It was intended to be a crowd pleasing financial success, with little to no controversy, and it succeeds. In cinematic history it offers very little more than a mildly entertaining time at the movies. It is quickly forgettable; it would be unfair to the filmmakers to call it nothing more than studio “product,” but it aims no higher and succeeds no more than most romantic comedies from any decade.