Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)

Director: Walter Lang
USA 1950
85 min
Starring: Myrna Loy, Clifton Webb and Jeanne Crain, among others.

Once again I had a different idea of the genre of the film before watching it, and therefore was quite shocked at how dramatic the movie actually turned out. I mean, look at the poster! Doesn't it all look jolly good, fine and dandy? Now, the shock wasn't as dramatic for me this time as when I watched Mrs. Miniver (1942) and expected a crazy screwball comedy about an eccentric British housewife (oh yeah, laugh at my silliness...) - Cheaper by the Dozen is a comedy, just a very sensible and realistic one, complete with the natural not-always-so-jolly-good ingredients of real life. And can there be a better way to adapt a novel based on a real life family with twelve children? (Well, Steve Martin certainly thought so in 2003... and again in 2005. The idea gives me horrible, horrible nightmares.)

So this is a real life story about a really big family in the 1920's. The father Frank Gilbreth (Webb) is an eccentric time and motion study and efficiency expert - something that comes in handy with scheduling the daily routines of such a large number of children.
Clifton Webb is of course a magnificent choice for such a part, and I regret that he didn't make a real entrance in the motion picture industry until his celebrated Oscar nomination performance as Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944). Two reasons for his less than sporadic appearances in film before that seems to be A) he worked a lot on the stage, and B) he was a homosexual, something that studio bosses and directors often were very uncomfortable with, and therefore thought twice before hiring him. (He almost didn't get the part in Laura because of it.)

The loving mother is played by the irreplaceable Myrna Loy, who in real life never got a child of her own. The casting choices for the parents of a dozen children is therefore very ironic and amusing - a gay man and a childless woman! And still I can't see anyone else playing their parts. (And really not Steve Martin.)

I absolutely adore that red-headed flapper à la Clara Bow to Jeanne Crain's right!

The oldest daughter, and narrator of the film, is called Ann (also beautifully cast part, Jeanne Crain). I don't really see why Ann should be the narrator, though - the original book was written by daughter Ernestine (played in the film by Barbara Bates, who we can see the same year as Eve's obsessive fan "Phoebe" in the last scene of All About Eve!) and son Frank Jr (Norman Ollestad). Anyway, that's about the only thing I could come up with as a complaint about the film - and not really worth mentioning. Cheaper by the Dozen is an adorable film, and I can't wait to see the sequel, Belles on Their Toes (1952).

One last little comment. What has happened when it comes to aging gracefully in today's Hollywood? It was so lovely to see a 45-year old Myrna Loy play a part her own age, and not covering up the wrinkles in her face with huge amounts of make up or botox. It seems like classic Hollywood actresses either started playing older parts when they couldn't play the young, foolish virgin anymore, or either dropped out of making movies (like Norma Shearer).

Well well, just needed to air my annoyed thoughts about women fearing to grow old. (See some perfect examples here...) Have some dignity, for crying out loud.


Merriam said...

Great review, I want very much to see this film, especially now. I read the book as a kid and it was a favorite for a long time. The modern ones don't capture the same family feeling of the book.

Kate Gabrielle said...

I've wanted to see this for ages and haven't gotten around to it yet -- thanks for the warning, I also thought it was a hilarious comedy!!

Elizabeth said...

I love this movie! I am also very impressed with Myrna Loy's ability to age gracefully. I actually thought she was still very pretty, same as she had always been!

If you get the chance, I would really recommend reading the books. They are utterly hysterical!

Kate Gabrielle said...

Thanks, I just spent like 20 minutes on that awful plastic surgery site!! Nightmares for months now...

Mary said...

Wonderful review! I love this movie and its sequel. The books are a lot of fun too because you can learn more about the family.

Lolita said...

I'm really interested in reading the book, I will have too google for it!

Kate Gabrielle:
Haha, I've got that site bookmarked ;)

Wow, did not know that so many had read the book! I really need to, now! Yes, Myrna looked great in her 40's!

Well, thanks! I have felt a little off lately on the blogging, so I worried that the post would be confusing ;) I will go look for the book now!

Keith said...

Hey there. Great post. I hope you've been having a wonderful weekend. Take care. Cheers!