Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Film review: HOUSEBOAT (Melville Shavelson, 1958)

This review is my entry to Phyllis Loves Classic Movies’s fabulous Cary Grant blogathon, where every entry is a celebration of the man’s varied and illustrious CV. Head on over there to read about all the films he’s been in!


Tom Winston (Grant), a recently widowed father of three young kids, and Cinzia Zaccardi (Sophia Loren), the aristocratic daughter of an Italian count who plays childminder to the kids, find unlikely love (and a whole lot of miscommunication) in Melville Shavelson’s gentle 50s comedy.

In his newfound status as a single parent, Tom is in desperate need of a nanny for his kids. Cinzia can’t cook or clean, but still represents a surrogate mum for the recently bereaved kids, who grapple for love in their slightly emotionally cold father, to little avail. And, whilst she lacks domestic nous, her original plans to circumvent not being blessed in that department are charming and witty, for example, singing with them.

One of the things that he's most celebrated for is the way Grant can muster sizzling chemistry with any of his co-stars, and with an acting partner as striking as Loren, the sparks fly, giving the flirty badinage their characters exchange extra frisson. 

What makes things interesting is the two actors actually had an off-screen affair on the set of 1957's The Pride and the Passion, and unlike in the case of The Light Between Oceans, where you'd struggle to believe Fassbender and Vikander shared any kind of real-life romance, in Houseboat, the chemistry is unmistakable.

The film isn’t perfect – the youngest son is almost as much of a brat as Mary-Louise Parker’s oldest son in Weeds, or either of Bree’s kids in Desperate Housewives, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in watching Sophia Loren glide across the screen in various figure hugging dresses, pretending to be oblivious to the power she holds over men.

Loren's wardrobe in Houseboat is the stuff of dreams: silk dresses, pearl necklaces and matching hats and gloves, sartorial flourishes which framed her gorgeous figure and beautiful brown eyes, to perfection.

Cary Grant’s performance as a man who’s falling in love, yet doesn’t even realise it, is remarkably close to the truth. His most poignant acting comes when Tom believes he’s lost Cinzia forever. Many critics believe that in the scene where Tom pleads Cinzia to marry him, he wasn't just playing a role. In real life, he was desperate for Loren to choose him over film producer Carlo Ponti. 

Grant was so besotted with the vulpine beauty he was sending her flowers on the daily. But, eventually, Loren chose her long-time lover Ponti. She cited the chief factor in her decision-making that he was Italian, like her. Poor Cary Grant, whilst a welcome, handsome distraction, was universes away from her world.  And thus, cast aside.

Knowing this juicy backstory certainly gives food for thought when watching the film, and made me wonder whether not just portraying a man in love, but being one, gave Grant's performance extra gravitas.

Kurt Cobain was certainly onto something when he opined, 'thank you for tragedy. I need it for my art.


Caftan Woman said...

I like your description of the film as a "gentle comedy". It is that - a most smile-worthy, Sunday matinee sort of film. Once you are aware of the off-screen relationship of the leads, it is impossible to watch without thinking of the emotional undercurrents. A fascinating piece for the blogathon.

Danilo Castro said...

I've not yet had the fortune of seeing Houseboat, but the idea of real emotions driving Grant's onscreen performance is a fascinating one. He onced quipped that his acting consisted of "learning lines and not bumping into the furniture", a practice he clearly didn't adhere to in this particular case! Fun read and will definitely add to my Cary Grant watchlist.

Anonymous said...

This was one of the very first Cary Grant movies I ever saw. I love it. It's a fun entertaining family movie. I'm so glad that somebody covered this film for the blogathon. Great post on it.

I would also like to invite you to participate in my upcoming blogathon. The link is below with more details.


Sounds previsible (in the sense we know in the beginning what will happen in the end), but nonetheless a pleasant film to watch in a lazy evening. Very good post!
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

Phyl said...

I've only seen this movie once and it was a good 8 years ago. I didn't know about his wanting to marry Loren!! I will definitely try to watch this soon with that in mind. Thanks for participating!!!

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