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Thursday, 13 August 2009

Houseboat (1958)

Director: Melville Shavelson
Stars: Cary Grant and Sophia Loren

Lawyer Tom Winters is also a widower. There's been some sort of accident and his wife has died, leaving three children behind. They had been estranged for a few years and her parents are rich and landed, but Winters takes them back to New York with him against his father-in-law's wishes. Of course the little brats don't want anything to do with him because they were happy with their horses and tennis courts and swimming pools, so David, Elizabeth and little Robert try to cause him as much trouble as they can, which is a good deal indeed. Apparently while everyone wanted to be Cary Grant, not everyone wanted to be his kid.

At this point in time Cary Grant wanted to be married to Sophia Loren, which wasn't very complimentary to his wife at the time, his third of five, Betsy Drake. What's worse, Drake wrote the screenplay to this film, though she didn't receive a credit, and Sophia Loren was her husband's co-star, who while dating the married Cary Grant was in the process of getting married to Italian star Carlo Ponti. Such is Hollywood, I guess, and all this Brangelina crap is hardly new. Everyone who worked with Sophia Loren fell in love with her, so this sort of situation followed her around. For intance, Ponti became both of her husbands; she annulled their first marriage to protect him from bigamy charges.

Loren is Cinzia Zaccardi, another kid rebelling against her parents, albeit an older and far more shapely one. Her father is an international conductor touring the States and she doesn't want to hang around, so off she sneaks out of the window to have fun for the evening, and as she says, actually meet an American in America. The American she meets is young seven year old Robert who has snuck away from daddy and hid in the boat she uses to row across the river to go party. When he finally lets her know where he lives, she takes him home. Next thing you know she's the maid, by special request of the kids.

It took me a while to really get Cary Grant, probably because of where I started out. I enjoyed North By Northwest but couldn't buy Cary Grant as the advertising executive turned James Bond. I enjoyed Arsenic and Old Lace too but didn't like his posturing around like a pigeon. I didn't even get his genius performance in Notorious because it's so subtle and Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains were so obviously good. I came around before long though and appreciate the man's talent and versatility. Almost everything I've seen him has a similarity to it as he was certainly no Lon Chaney, but he could lend his hand to every thing from outright slapstick to high drama.

Sophia Loren could do the same and is stunning here. She was the total package, unlike many of her apparent competitiors in the sex symbol stakes, because she is perfect for whichever fantasy fits your personal mindset: everything from hot and sexy one night stand to mistress, wife, mother, the works. All at once she's the unpredictable and dangerous woman to go out with and the safe and dependable woman to come home to and that's no easy balance to strike. Loren did it without ever being anything except herself. What's more she could act the socks off any blonde Hollywood bombshell and if you don't believe that, watch Vittorio de Sica's Two Women.

The internal logic of this film falls apart on occasion and some of the subplots are resolved about a thousand times quicker than they should be, but it's an enjoyable ride. The leads are excellent and they're ably supported by established names like Martha Hyer and Murray Hamilton to much younger and newer names like the three young Winters children. However Paul Petersen, Charles Herbert and especially Mimi Gibson were hardly newcomers. They were all experienced names and knew precisely what they were doing. So did everyone else here.

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