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Houseboat movie from 1958
Houseboat movie from 1958
This old fashioned sitcom from the fities is most memorable for the charm of Cary Grant and the beauty of Sophia Loren in wonderful dresses and singing delighfully. I love the scene where a friend asks Cary Grant about Sophia and he says he got her for the children; the friend replies, "Adopt me!" My feelings precisely. Here is a more detailed review:
This charming little domestic comedy which really can be seen as a forerunner to the situation comedies of the 1960's, is given its memorable quality by the unexpectedly wonderful teaming of screen legends Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. By 1958 Grant was just entering the final period of his legendary career that would see him retire forever from movie making in 1966 with his debonair image still intact after almost four decades of continuous film work. Sophia Loren at this time was still largely considered an exotic recent import to Hollywood from Europe and had just completed a series of Hollywood efforts that teamed her with the likes of John Wayne, Alan Ladd and William Holden. The pair had teamed two years previously in the epic "The Pride and the Passion", also starring Frank Sinatra, however it was in this funny, and at times quite touching family story that their real chemistry on screen was properly displayed. Sophia Loren had probably her most successful Hollywood film up to this time with "Houseboat", and the ageless Cary Grant was in the middle of his highly successful collaborations in a series of glossy thrillers with director Alfred Hitchcock which certainly helped the box office of this very different type of story. Despite their different screen personas Grant and Loren are a delight together on screen when dealing with diverse situations involving three unruly children and an oversized decaying houseboat which almost becomes a character in itself in the story and is the main setting for the comic situations that arise.
Cary Grant plays Tom Winters a debonair Washington business man used to the single life with lots of travel after his marriage breakup. When his former wife is killed in a car accident Tom suddenly finds himself gaining custody of their three children that had formerly been under the care of his former sister in law Carolyn (Martha Hyer). Taking the children away when his wife's family try to keep hold of the children Tom has a dilemma about where his new little family are to live and he finds that his bachelor quarters in Washington are no substitute for a real home. The children at first dont like him and want to be back with Aunt Carolyn and when youngest son Robert (Charles Herbert), runs away he is eventually brought home by beautiful Cinzia Zaccardi (Sophia Loren), who is also in the process of running away from her domineering father Arthuro Zaccardi (Eduardo Ciannelli ), who is a famous orchestra conductor. Because she has a great rapport with the children and they seem to instantly like her Tom offers the supposedly homeless Cinzia a job as combined maid, cook and cleaner for the family. Tom sets out to find a new home and comes across a dilapidated old houseboat which he thinks could be turned into the ideal family home. His idea of domestic bliss however is short lived when he finds out that not only can Cinzia not cook, do laundry or clean house, but that he is also falling in love with her. This creates a further complication for Tom in that he is developing a romance with Carolyn and she and her friends look down unkindly on Tom's having the beautiful Italian woman around the houseboat. After eldest son David (Paul Peterson), almost drowns in an over turned small boat and Carolyn and her friends attempt to embarrass Cinzia just prior to a Fourth of July party at the neighbouring Country Club, Tom realises where his real future lies and proposes marriage. However at this eleventh hour the children have a bad reaction to the lady they have loved over the last few months fearing that Cinzia is trying to take their dead mother's place and even as the wedding is starting on the top deck of the houseboat the children refuse to attend the ceremony. However all such stories have a happy ending and before the preacher can declare Tom and Cinzia man and wife the three children going through a rapid change of heart appear fully dressed behind the couple and Robert even ends up serenading the couple on his harmonica.
Oddly enough I find a lot of similiarities between the general story of "Houseboat", and that of the more famous "The Sound of Music", in that a nanny comes into a disfunctional family and not only reunites its members but marries the head of the house. Sophia Loren although widely praised in her initial Hollywood efforts despite their lack of box office success, really began showing her potential in this effort where she was required to be more than decorative and show plenty of cleavage. She displays a fine comic style and she works very well with Cary Grant's laid back and totally charming acting delivery. She has many pleasing moments such as when she accidently (on purpose), sprays Cary Grant with paint during the houseboat's renovation and her love/hate scenes with him sparkle brightly enough even in the more unlikely moments. Cary Grant had this type of "charming man of the world suddenly thrown into a dilemma type" of character down pat by 1958 and he does very well as the comfortable bachelor suddenly having to deal with three children, a leaky houseboat, and a very beautiful Italian maid who can't cook or keep house. The three children in the story are what would be called "typical sitcom children", during the next decade but they are pleasing in their performances as well and at times have a maturity about their acting especially in the scenes when they reject Cinzia near the conclusion for supposedly attempting to take the place of their own mother. Paul Peterson as eldest son David would end up winning fame of his own as the son on the long running "The Donna Reed Show", which began it's network run the same year that "Houseboat", was released. The whole film certainly has the feel of a situation comedy about it and it constantly amazes me that the basic premise of this story in "Houseboat", was never used for an ongoing comedy series during the 1960's when this type of story was commonplace. Certainly Paramount regarded this vehicle as one of their bigger efforts for 1958 filming it in glorious Vista Vision and giving it glowing colour photography that gives the story an extremely lush look and feel. The beautiful renovated houseboat of the title seems to simply rise out of its earlier decaying, undesirable state and is something which only Hollywood in the 1950's could have thought up as the "central character", of a story such as this. Veteran clothes designer Edith Head, long a Paramount legend with her incredible clothes designs over forty years for all of the Paramount stars also excels in her designs here and Sophia Loren really came into her own in the glamour stakes with the lavish and highly flattering clothes made for her by Edith Head in this picture.
Good nostalgic fun from a simpler time is how best to describe "Houseboat". Not the funniest comedy from the 1950's for sure but it's highly enjoyable on a different level as a sort of time capsule for how Hollywood used to make comedies. Seeing Cary Grant and Sophia Loren together in one of their only two movie teamings is also a special treat and they really display what old Hollywood star power was all about. Happily "Houseboat", has been given a really beautiful treatment for it's release onto DVD and I highly recommend this charming little domestic comedy for all lovers of older style family movies where all members of the family learn from their experiences and develop a greater love for each other in the process. Enjoy!