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By the early 1960s, the studio system was all but finished, and MGM had very few artists on long-term contracts. Instead, even longtime studio employees like director Vincente Minnelli found themselves being offered multipicture deals instead of new contracts when their old ones expired. The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963) was Minnelli's first film on his six-picture deal with the studio. Based on an autobiographical novel by Mark Toby, it's a gentle comedy of a widower and his young son adjusting to life on their own, and the boy's efforts to find a new wife and mother for them.
Glenn Ford also had a multipicture deal with MGM, and was chosen to play widower Tom Corbett. Ford had been badly miscast as an Argentine playboy in Minnelli's previous film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962), which had been savaged by critics and bombed at the box office. In The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Ford was more appropriately cast, and showed genuine rapport with nine-year-old Ronny Howard, who played Eddie. Howard had been playing "Opie" in the TV series The Andy Griffith Show, and had received excellent reviews for his third film, The Music Man (1962). In The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Howard gave what is considered by many to be one of the great performances by a child actor, playing his comic scenes with a deadpan gravity, and his dramatic scenes with vivid intensity. "Ronny" Howard, of course, grew up to be Ron Howard, director of such films as Splash (1984), Backdraft (1991), and Apollo 13 (1995).
Glenn Ford had the good sense to stand back and let young Ronny steal the film, and received good reviews for his efforts. Minnelli recalled in his autobiography that Ford delivered "a true performance, and a touching one. He was on-key throughout the filming." Ford's role was to react, and that was one of his strengths as an actor. In the harrowing scene where Eddie has hysterics when he finds his goldfish dead, Minnelli wrote, "Ford reacted beautifully, with all the conflicting emotions of the character. He's concerned, but irritated, so his impatience shows."
Ford not only managed to hold his own with his precocious co-star, but also with the three glamorous actresses who played the candidates for his new wife: Shirley Jones, as a sympathetic neighbor; Stella Stevens as a comic sexpot; and Dina Merrill as a sleek sophisticate. Shirley Jones called Ford "one of the finest actors of his time. 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."
The Courtship of Eddie's Father was released at a time of great turmoil in Hollywood. In spite of decent reviews, and even with its modest budget, the film did not make a profit. However, it did inspire a television series of the same name, one of the first films to do so.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Screenplay: John Gay, from the novel by Mark Toby
Editor: Adrienne Fazan
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Urie McCleary
Music: George Stoll
Cast: Glenn Ford (Tom Corbett), Shirley Jones (Elizabeth Marten), Stella Stevens (Dollye Daly), Dina Merrill (Rita Behrens), Ronny Howard (Eddie), Roberta Sherwood (Mrs. Livingston), Jerry Van Dyke (Norman Jones).
C-119m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Margarita Landazuri