Sunday, February 14, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Room For One More (1952) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952) is an excellent family film which was just released by the Warner Archive on Blu-ray.

I saw ROOM FOR ONE MORE on local television many times growing up; an identically named TV series led to the film being shown under the title THE EASY WAY.  

I was also very familiar with the story thanks to the book it was based on, written by Anna Perrott Rose.  I acquired a paperback copy thanks to a Scholastic book fair and read it numerous times growing up; that copy still sits on my bookshelf today.

When our kids were younger I got them the Warner Archive's 2009 DVD release of ROOM FOR ONE MORE, but before tonight it had been many years since I sat down and watched it myself.  Coming to it "fresh" after a long absence, I not only enjoyed it, I found myself impressed.  The film is sensitively written, by Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose, and the performances are excellent.

The film stars Cary Grant and Betsy Drake, who had married in real life in 1949.  They play George and Anna Perrott Rose, who as the film begins are the parents of three children: Tim (Malcolm Cassell), Trot (Gay Gordon), and Teenie (George "Foghorn" Winslow).

Anna's women's group tours an orphanage run by Miss Kenyon (Lurene Tuttle), and Anna is moved to take in an older child needing a home.  That child is Jane (Iris Mann), a scared and angry girl from an abusive home.  Jane is a handful, at times exasperating "Poppy" (Grant), but when it's time for Jane's two-week stay with the family to come to an end, it's Poppy who carries her suitcase back upstairs, inviting her to remain with the family.

Jane settles in to family life, but before long Anna has a "gleam" in her eye again, and this time she invites a crippled boy named Jimmy John (Clifford Tatum Jr.) along on the family's annual summer vacation in a beach cottage.  If anything Jimmy John is even more resistant to the family than Jane was, refusing to talk or learn to read, but after a hard struggle the kindness and the stability of the Rose household also gets through to Jimmy John.

As a child it bothered me that the film deviated from the book, as the Rose family actually took in three children, including a second boy, Joey.  Watching the film as an adult, I can completely understand why the number was shaved to two, as that provides more than enough story for the film's 98 minutes.

Grant and Drake are an excellent team.  I noted that in his recent review critic Glenn Erickson sees Drake's Anna as controlling, making all the decisions, but that wasn't my take.  Poppy may protest, but he's just as much a sucker for children and animals in need as his wife.  Not only does he make the first move for Jane to stay, but watch the scene where he goes to Jimmy John's classroom to explain he won't be coming to stay with the family.  Once he gets a look at Jimmy John's leg braces and the nasty teacher, he tells off the teacher and takes Jimmy John home.

And who is sliding food from the dinner table to Tramp, the stray dog who moves in with the family at the start of the film?  Poppy, of course.  The protests and jokes about the "gleam" in his wife's eye for a new stray are simply part of their routine.  

In fact, Poppy is as adept at handling children as his wife, such as in the scene where he imparts some basic "facts of life" to the curious Jimmy John.  And when the mother (Mary Treen) of Jane's crush (Larry Olsen) cancels their plans to attend a school dance out of concern over Jane's "background," it's Poppy who visits the family to give them a piece of his mind.

The early scenes depict a pleasantly chaotic home life, with Poppy struggling to bake a birthday cake while a cat gives birth to numerous kittens under the stove and a stray dog is attempting to make himself at home.  The Roses' biggest problem may simply be finding time alone together, with Poppy joking he's not sure how they ever had children in the first place!

At the same time, the Roses live in what's very much the "real world"; in addition to the previously mentioned unkind mother, the film seems almost ahead of its era in frankly addressing issues regarding abusive families and unwed mothers.  The troubled children who come to the Rose home insist on lights burning all night, sneak food from the table to save against possible hunger the next day, have anger management issues, and scream with fear when left alone.  Those who think of '50s entertainment as presenting only "perfect" FATHER KNOWS BEST scenarios should watch this film.

At the same time, the movie also caused me to reflect on how times have changed.  Young Jane is left with a big responsibility, caring for an infant for an evening -- and when the parents are delayed, they don't have cell phones to reach her.  And although it's not pointed out, the Roses' fairly young other children are clearly left home alone when their parents spend that evening out with their friends (John Ridgely and Randy Stuart).  

Similarly Jimmy John, working on becoming an Eagle Scout, at one point trudges endlessly through the snow, some of it in darkness.  It's hard to imagine today's "helicopter" parents allowing any of this.  Makes me think of how I walked home alone from school as a five-year-old, crossing three streets, while my own children, a similar distance from home in our pre-homeschooling days, were not allowed by the school to leave the campus without an adult.

ROOM FOR ONE MORE was directed by Norman Taurog and filmed by Robert Burks, who collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on several films.

The supporting cast includes Frank Ferguson, Dabbs Greer, and Don Beddoe.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is an outstanding print with excellent sound.  The disc includes the trailer and two cartoons released the same year as the movie, OPERATION RABBIT (1952) and FEED THE KITTY (1952).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold. 


Blogger barrylane said...

I do not believe children today are the moral or mature equals of the past. Not debatable for me, but a profound belief. I follow Glenn as well and he has a consummate and professional understanding of the filmmaking process, but on human nature, not always right, but you are. Poppy is as far from dominated or controlled as any person can be. Just look at the casting.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Barrylane, thanks for your thoughts on this, as well as the kind words. Glad to know someone else saw Poppy in the same way.

I greatly enjoy Glenn's reviews and respect his opinions, as evidenced by frequently linking to them here, but we do tend to see characters and motivations differently with some regularity. I think he has a bit more of a cynical lens than I do, and I have a feeling he'd probably agree.

Best wishes,

9:44 AM  

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