Friday, April 18, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Cheaper By the Dozen (1950) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey has always been one of my favorite books. In fact, a kind friend, knowing I love to reread it, sent me a lovely Kindle edition last Christmas, so I can easily take it with me wherever I go!

It just so happens that Jeanne Crain, one of the stars of the film version of CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950), has long been one of my favorite actresses; as a matter of fact, I just profiled her for the ClassicFlix site.

Despite being one of my favorites, somehow I'd never seen Crain in a single film on the big screen, so CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN was the perfect film for me to kick off opening night of the TCM Classic Film Festival. It would be the first of 14 movies seen between Thursday and Sunday nights!

I'd seen CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN several times over the years, but it had been so long since my last viewing that it felt fresh and new. And what a treat to see it in a very nice 35mm print!

It's the very enjoyable fact-based tale of a pair of efficiency experts (Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy) raising a large brood of children. Webb's Frank Gilbreth is a mix of old-fashioned (he chaperones his daughter on a date) and new-fangled (believing in education by ability, not grade), frequently with comical results.

Although Webb is occasionally able to indulge in some of the snark that made him famous, in roles such as LAURA (1944) and SITTING PRETTY (1948), his love for his children is quite apparent, and in fact having that kind of parental devotion coming from an actor known for his sarcasm makes Webb all the more touching and effective in the role. The way he ruffles the little boys' hair and reacts when little Lillie tells him why she wants to earn money is moving.

This is a quieter role for Loy as the steadfast, ever-patient wife, and she uncharacteristically tends to recede into the background, yet she too has her moments, especially when she must ultimately take over the family business.

Jeanne Crain plays oldest daughter Ann, constantly at odds with her father's old-fashioned ways. In real life the 25-year-old Crain was already a mother a couple times over, but she's completely believable as a high schooler trying to be more independent and also make life easier for the siblings who would follow her.

Barbara Bates is most prominent among the siblings, playing Ernestine. Loy, Crain, and Bates would reprise their roles in the sequel, BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952), along with child actress Carol Nugent, playing Lillie Gilbreth.

I haven't seen BELLES ON THEIR TOES in some time and intend to watch it soon. I'm especially looking forward to it as another favorite, Debra Paget, plays Martha, played by Patti Brady in the original film.

Jimmy Hunt (SADDLE TRAMP, THE LONE HAND), who plays Bill in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, would play Fred in the sequel, while Roddy McCaskill switched from Jack to Bob, Anthony Sydes switched from Fred to Dan, and Teddy Driver switched from Dan to Jack. The way casting was handled between the two films is a bit confusing!

A factual side note regarding the children: The second-eldest of the Gilbreth "dozen," Mary, died at age five. Despite that, Mary is portrayed in the first film as an older child by Betty Barker.

TCM's Tom Brown did a very nice introduction to the film, and he pointed out something I'd forgotten: 20th Century-Fox rented the house from the MGM film MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. When the Gilbreth family moves early in the film, they move into the Smith house at "5155 Kensington Avenue." The interiors were also used. I'm aware of at least two more films which used the house, MGM's CYNTHIA (1947), which used both the interior and exterior, and LITTLE WOMEN (1949), which briefly used the interior for Aunt March's home.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN was directed by Walter Lang from a screenplay by Lamar Trotti. It was filmed in Technicolor by Leon Shamroy.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN is available on DVD, as is the sequel, BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952).

The second film of the night was an old favorite, Ginger Rogers and David Niven in BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), which I reviewed here back in 2006. I've seen this film countless times, but it was more than wonderful to see it with a packed, responsive audience! It was especially fun that so many fellow classic film bloggers were at the screening. Ginger's thunderstruck facial expressions were never funnier.

BACHELOR MOTHER was introduced by comedian Greg Proops. I'll admit I'd never heard of him, but he did a nice job and knew the film.

For another take on this evening, Kim attended the same opening night screenings and has written about the experience at I See a Dark Theater.

Coming soon: A look at Day Three of the festival and a review of STAGECOACH (1939), with even more to follow!

For more links to my coverage of the festival, please visit The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review.

Update: Here's a review of the sequel, BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952).


Blogger LĂȘ said...

Cheaper by the Dozen is so cool. I didn't know I was seeing such a famous movie on TC until the credits appeared (here in Brazil the title is "Swell Dad"), and I loved it. Myrna's expression is so flawless in the saddest scene of the film.
And I must watch Bachelor Mother, I've read Raquel telling her love for the movie so many times...

5:29 PM  

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