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Living in a rundown houseboat to save on expenses, Grant and his family's lives had become a boring routine, until the arrival of Hurricane Loren, with her Italian philosophy, her singing, and her unmistakable femininity and sex appeal (which introduces oldest son Paul Peterson to the joys of puberty, and to daughter Mimi Gibson and younger son Charles Herbert a mother-figure they both needed). Grant is at first oblivious to her charms, but she is hard to ignore for long! The question then becomes, when will Cary 'wake up', and realize everything he needs is right on the houseboat?
Filmed after Grant and Loren's whirlwind affair during the filming of 'The Pride and the Passion', the film was a bittersweet experience for both stars, particularly shooting the wedding scene, as Grant still desperately wanted to marry Loren, but she had already decided to remain with longtime love Carlo Ponti. Viewers aware of the 'behind-the-scenes' story will appreciate the performances of the two leads even more!
After you watch 'Houseboat', catch the flipside of this story in Grant's later 'Father Goose', as a drunken reprobate with a boat who must deal with governess Leslie Caron and her charges! The two films make a fascinating double-feature, and showcases Cary Grant's amazing versatility!
Seen either way, 'Houseboat' is a delight!
But after the youngest kid, Herbert, wanders away after a concert, he meets Sophia Loren who is also running away from her conductor father, Eduardo Ciannelli. They are soul mates Herbert and Loren and before long she's moved in on the Grant family.
Which is forced by circumstance I won't reveal to live on a houseboat in the woods in Maryland. The Houseboat and its many problems lend itself to a whole lot of physical problems and one rather dramatic one, when one of the kids nearly drowns. Cary gets a lot of good mileage out of the comedy.
This was Cary and Sophia's second film together and it was one big improvement on the overblown Pride and the Passion. No doubt that the two of them were still involved from The Pride and the Passion lends a lot of truth in the scenes Grant and Loren play together.
Also look for a nice performance by Harry Guardino who's the one who is responsible for the group being on the Houseboat.
Houseboat is a nice family comedy and hasn't aged a bit from the Fifties when it was made.
But these personal riffs are not the only reason why the film falls flat on the face. The screenplay is to blame for most of the problems. The story cannot decide between being a serious approach about parental problems, in particular widowed fathers who have lost contact to their children, and a lighthearted comedy about a father of three getting an Italian housekeeper who is too pretty to be ignored and shows the father how to treat children well.
If that would not be enough there is a sister-in-law, quite nice and pretty too, and loved by the children as well, who is madly in love with Grant and he seems to like her too. And there is Sophia's father, a famous Italian conductor, who is a cardboard-type of Italian protective parent.
What is very annoying too, is, there is a lot of harsh language on all sides, fathers, children, ladies and others and two incidents of slapping faces, both without real reason and therefore the more surprising and even shocking.
The whole thing probably could have been handled well in the hands of an experienced director, like Stanley Donen or Blake Edwards, who have an ear for bad dialogue, and there is plenty of this in the film. But Melville Shavelson was definitely the wrong guy to steer this project. Many scenes are wasted by discussing things over and over again, but no good points are made. And it looks like Grant REALLY felt uncomfortable with the kids.
As other reviewers already pointed out, there are so many visual faults: 1. The house on the railway tracks run down by a train, and we don't see the impact, just a few splinters flying towards Cary Grant; 2. The houseboat, completely wasted as a source for fun; 3. Too many badly done rear projection and "outdoor" studio settings; 4. and the worst, the strange complexion of Sofia Loren, she looks so dark as if she were an African American. And much too old, although she was 24 at the time!
And then there are these awful texts the children had to say, they constantly talk and act like diminutive grown-ups!
The whole film has an unsatisfactory, even sick feeling, as if you watch people constantly making the wrong decisions and the happy end never felt so wrong as in this film. Sorry folks who admire this film, but this had to be said. Fully agree with the author of WRONG WIFE.
It's crazy to write a review of a movie this old, with two legends, as if I have anything new to say. But that's exactly why it's worth my while. I watched it as a "Cary Grant movie" which is a category like a "Greta Garbo movie." And he's good, though there are no real sparks on screen between him and Sofia Loren, a substitute for Grant's wife of the moment, who wrote the original script. I think it ends up just a match of two screen beauties. The 1958 public liked it, at least.
It's weird how old Loren looks here—she's playing a 22 year old (she's 24 during the shoot), but her whole demeanor and hairstyle scream 30 or 40. Weird, because she's supposed to be a wild kid that her dad can't control. This matters because Grant plays an older man—an older father of three whose wife has died and who really needs a nanny. Loren's character becomes the nanny even though she's from a privileged family, mostly as an escape. Famously, Grant had been trying to woo Loren for months during their previous film, and he may or may not have gotten anywhere, but by this filming she made clear she wasn't interested, and even got married (to Carlo Ponti) while this one was being shot.
The plot is fun but the film is a bit plasticky. It's not as funny or clever as the old screwball days. Or as fast. The three kids are fine but barely—no great acting here, and no great direction either. Oh yeah, the director—Melville Shavelson—is not making the most of his material. He's more of a screenwriter (he co-wrote this) and there are some great lines. The direction is routine, however, which is a shame, because some scenes are clunky and others play out as if the script would do all the work.
Even the cinematography is merely adequate, though the sets and setting are great so you might not notice. The idea of using a houseboat (a real one in Maryland) is a great money saving device, no doubt, and it gives everything an offbeat air.
So it's all enjoyable if nothing remarkable, more or less typical of this low point in Hollywood movie-making. The best here is Grant, who still throws his classic one-liners off as if they were his. Too bad they echo out of sync with the rest of the cast.
Enters Cinzia (Sophia Loren), well educated daughter traveling with her famous conductor father, Tom's young son wanders away after the concert and ends up spending the evening with Cinzia. When she brings him home, both dirty, Tom thinks this "peasant" might make a good nanny. Never mind that she was also gorgeous.
The houseboat becomes the gimmick to set up the dynamics of the story. While a cottage is being moved for them, sold by Tom's sister in law (Martha Hyer), it stalls on the tracks and gets destroyed by the train. The truck driver just happens to have a houseboat on the Potomac to rent them. But it is dilapidated, the roof leaks, and a host of problems crop up to keep the comedy flowing. In addition, Hyer is divorcing her husband and has had an eye for Tom since she was 4, and wanted him now.
Cary Grant and Sophia Loren are an odd pairing, and was no doubt done to capitalize on their popularity. Grant was over 50, and was to make only a few more movies. Loren was 23 and while she was a seasoned actress in foreign films, was still relatively new to American cinema. Still, we the audience believe they can become romantically involved.
It was nice to see a young Paul Petersen as Tom's son, David. I remember Petersen mostly for his 8-year stint on the old Donna Reed TV show, playing one of her sons. He is a real brat in "Houseboat."
SPOILERS: In the end all gets sorted, Tom has to reject Hyer's proposal, he isn't in love with her. Cinzia at first leaves to return home, but then comes back and she and Tom are married, and the kids are happy. They also leave the houseboat.
Will Grant marry his strait-laced sister-in-law?Will he fall for Sophia's mediterranean charms?You will have to see this movie for that. Most of the story happens on a revamped "houseboat" .Hence the title.
The kids are remarkably charm-free, the novelty of the houseboat is tiresome, and the plot is entirely predictable.
However, if Sophia Loren is your cup of tea, then by all means feast your eyes. She's at her luscious prime here. A better idea for all concerned might have been to dispense with the family angle, and have it be a romantic drama with Grant and Harry Guardino -- who does a lot with a little here -- vying for her charms.
I'm not just talking about what would suggest sexual abuse in today's context. Every element is the worst of the Hollywood formula system:
the way that one of the world's most glamorous women is made up and photographed as actually ugly.
the vapid appeal to "Saturday Post" notions of religion, something that would offend even a Texas fundamentalist.
the completely valueless and nonsensical dynamics of the romantic situation on both sides: the sister-in-law cum lover then dumped and the presumably hotblooded impetuous runaway daughter cum maid then second wife.
the blatant theft of the Buster Keaton bit about the train hitting the house, except all we see are some Styrofoam boards thrown toward Grant.
the promising setup of the houseboat that is utterly ignored.
the bankable humor of Grant that seems to have been deliberately avoided at every opportunity. Add to this the other characters, so poorly drawn they don't even qualify as cartoons.
the Edith Head costumes that are unflattering, uninteresting _and_ unphotogenic.
Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
Wholesome and sexy-looking SOPHIA LOREN in real life was a total turn-on for CARY GRANT (he wanted to marry her) who probably insisted that she be his co-star in this little romp. But the result is a predictable romantic comedy with an annoying song (sung by Sophia) that is just as cliché-ridden as the script. Too bad these two co-starred in another little disaster called THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION--sounds like a description of their on again/off again stormy love affair in real life.
Once the scene shifts to the houseboat, the atmosphere is claustrophobic rather than cheery and you keep wondering how long it's going to take for Grant and Loren to realize they'd be happy together.
Grant was maturing nicely by the late '50s, but I wish he'd been paired with more mature actresses beyond their twenties, since Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren seem much too young for him. It would have been nice to see him make a film with someone like Olivia de Havilland--who, like Ingrid Bergman and Deborah Kerr, would have made a more suitable romantic partner on screen during the '50s.
The kids remain non-entities, the humor is forced, the situations are just silly--and yet, there are some who find this harmless fluff to be highly enjoyable. I didn't.
Summing up: Passes the time but only Grant's most loyal fans will want to see it more than once.
Widower Tom Winters (Grant) is reunited with his three estranged young children and finds they don't particularly think too highly of him. Struggling to pay them due care and attention and commit to his work, salvation may come in the guise of Cinzia Zaccardi (Loren), the daughter of a famous Italian conductor whose firm hand at parenting has led to Cinzia running away. Even though she has no discernible skills for the job, Tom hires Cinzia to be the maid to the Winters family, which once they wind up living on a rickety houseboat, has life affirming consequences for all of them.
Family drama, a romantic comedy, a 54 year old Cary Grant as the romantic lead opposite a 24 year old Sophia Loren as the prime love interest. Behind the scenes sparks as Grant yearns deeply to be Loren's better half, to which she responds by marrying Carlo Ponti, while Grant's then wife, Betsy Drake, gets passed over for the role given to Loren in a film based on an original script that she wrote herself! All that and the film leans heavily on three moppet characters. Had to be a miserable failure, surely?
Thankfully no. Houseboat is an utterly delightful picture, a throwback to time when Hollywood knew how to produce charming family friendly movies. Propelled by Grant, the man who could find chemistry with a door, the pic may not hold any surprise with its outcome, but the comedy is strong throughout and the family values inherent are rich with their story telling rewards. There's the odd musical interlude to tap your feet along with as well.
With Grant showing more comic ability with just facial expressions than many of today's comedy actors can provide in an hour of film, Houseboat is very much essential viewing for the Grant purists. True, Loren is hardly providing any acting gravitas here, but by the time she wanders into view looking absolutely knockout in a gold dress, nothing else really matters! Bonus, too, is the child actors, wonderfully directed by Shavelson, there's no irritants here, just honest and engaging reactions to scenes and scripting that stop the formula becoming stagnant, while Guardino shines bright as a commitment phobic Lothario.
Delightfully warm as a rom-com, but not ignorant to the trials and tribulations of a family coming to terms with a big change, Houseboat is always on safe entertainment waters. 7.5/10
This is the "Please Don't Eat the Daisies variety of wholesome family corn. It's irritating and crappy from the first frames. The story is a saccharine homily. Dad loses mom in an accident and hires a hot nanny. I give you 11 seconds to figure out that mommy replacement is the agenda. Is there any other way that storyline can go? (See The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Sound of Mucus, King and I). The script is quite rotten. The direction is very horrible, with dollars visibly saved by getting 90 percent of the movie in the can via rear-screen projection.
We gave up the conceits of noir in the 40s, for this?; 1950's commie-hating, child-obsessed, nuclear-familifying propaganda? Like everything from the 50s, Houseboot tries to naturalize your patriotic duty to reproduce via the inclusion of major roles for children, despite the fact that very few children can act (See also: The King and I, An Affair to Remember, South Pacific, Man who Knew Too Much). And the unwelcome "dad's a jackass around kids" routine rears its ugly head.
The movie starts weird with twee, hand-drawn credits showing one of the movies moppets sulking and walking in circles on the floor, while the color process switches inexplicably between tints... weird. Then it starts running the film backwards and forwards. Hmmm, OK then. Loren looks bizarre, shaded down to Indian tones, and made up like a voluptuous cat; she looks like she may eat the children at any moment. Just like everything else in this movie, her part is written for maximum irritation (she sings a stupid song over and over) and she generally demonstrates why Italians are absent in Hollywood for the next 5 decades.
Admittedly, a lot of the movie shows its age. Many of the family interactions are too cute for my taste. The movie's real joy is seeing Sophia Loren in some of those revealing outfits (well, as revealing as was allowed in 1958). It's not any sort of great movie, but enjoyable enough for its length.
Watch for Murray Hamilton (Mr. Robinson in "The Graduate" and the mayor in "Jaws") and Kathleen Freeman (the nun in "The Blues Brothers") in early roles.
*Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs was of the opinion that there was always reason for optimism, because, as he put it, no one who lived through the '50s would've predicted the '60s.