A Great Cast, but This is Ronny Howard’s Movie
I have just seen this movie again after many years. It was always a favorite, and if I remember correctly I may have first seen it in the theatre when I was a little younger than Ronny Howard was when he played the titular role. It is based on a very short book of the same title by Mark Roby. It is very faithful to it. It has all of the pivotal scenes and most of the small ones. It even expands some characters that play a very small part in the book. The new housekeeper, renamed Mrs. Livingston, to the recent widower, Tom, and his son Eddie has a greatly expanded role. She is perfectly played by Roberta Sherwood and the Spanish lessons are added as well. The role of Dollye Daly played by Stella Stevens and her romance with Tom Corbett’s employee, the radio personality and playboy, is also greatly enhanced. Although Stella competently plays the ditsy, sweet but book-smart Dollye, she is comic gold in her bowling scene and her drum solo. Neither are in the book. We completely understand why Norman, the quintessential womanizer, played by Jerry Van Dyke, is very intrigued during the former, but falls for her hook, line, and sinker when she screws up her courage to favor the nightclub with her unforgettable stylings on the drums.
Glenn Ford is great as the still-grieving father struggling to raise his son as a single father in New York City. Dina Merrill is perfectly cast as the sophisticated career woman whom he falls for. She is not a villainess, but does not have a maternal bone in her body. Shirley Jones plays the warm lovely next-door neighbor whom we know is going to be “the one.” But the movie really belongs to Ronny Howard whose performance brings Eddie to life. He is adorable and real. He makes the funny lines funnier and the sad parts more poignant. When he conflates the death of his goldfish with the death of his mother the resulting hysteria and horror is heartbreaking and terrifying. Tom does not understand and in his panic and pain cries, “A fish is a fish but his mother was his mother!” But Elizabeth does. This was Ronny’s big scene and it is a tour de force. But he handles the subtle scenes masterfully as well. His quiet politeness hiding his uncertainty and suspicion during his first meeting with Rita (Dina Merrill), His fear and desperation when Tom tells him he is going to marry her. His happiness and hope when his Dad finally asks Elizabeth for a date. There is not one phony second in his performance.
This is one of those movies that has something for everyone: Wit, physical comedy, drama, suspense, tenderness, and a slow-burn romance. And it delivers on every one.
January 14, 2022