HOUSEBOAT floated to success back in 1958, the second pairing of tried & true Cary Grant and emergent goddess Sophia Loren making it the 14th most popular movie of the year. The script, a blend of rom-com sparring mixed with family schmaltz from a trio of capable child actors, managed to get Oscar-nominated, as was the song “Almost In Your Arms”. No doubt it made for an amusing night out six decades back, but today, sitting through its plot-obvious machinations for 109 minutes is mostly a chore. One thing’s a sure bet: tan and 24, Loren could stop a battleship, let alone tie up a houseboat.
State Department worker ‘Tom Winters’ (Grant) barely knows his three young children, and the estrangement is harder because the mother has died in an auto accident. When Tom opts to raise them, over the objections of his in-laws and the kids, he ends up with an accidental maid, in the form (and then some) of ‘Cinzia Zaccardi’ (Loren), visiting from Italy with her symphony conductor father. Will her sweetness win over the troubled kids? Will her earthy va-va-voom make chopped liver out of snooty ‘Carolyn’ (Martha Hyer, blah as ever), who’s had a thing for Tom from way back? Take a guess.
Grant walks through it, Loren is radiant, the precocious tots, played by some of the day’s decent and busy child actors—Paul Peterson,12, Charles Herbert, 11 and Mimi Gibson, 10—aren’t unbearable, but it’s dated, cut & paste material. And it’s just not very funny. Watching it lately, alone (NOT how to watch a comedy, mind you), it was a situation where a gag would come up and you’d think “Oh, that would have worked then”, yet hardly any got more than a chuckle in the present. Also on hand are Harry Guardino and Murray Hamilton, who were both getting a good deal of work at the time.
The backstory tidbits are tastier than the tame main course. Grant’s wife Betsy Drake (#3, 1949-62) wrote it as a vehicle for Cary that she would co-star in. He went gaga for Loren during the making of The Pride And The Passion, and saw that she replaced his own wife (cad alert!), whose script was then reworked by Melville Shavelson (who directed) and Jack Rose. The further burn to Mrs. Grant was that those guys were Academy Award nominated for something she’d designed. Loren cooled Grant’s ardor by turning him down to marry Carlo Ponti (someone had some loyalty, it seems), so the shooting of the film was fraught with uncomfortable undertones. Audiences didn’t care,as they shelled out $10,000,000 to see it. Grant had another hit comedy that year, appropriately titled Indiscreet. With Ingrid Bergman, it holds up better than Houseboat. Still, many people have fond memories of this picture, so don’t let my diffident shrug carry the day.
In the cast: Eduardo Ciannelli, John Litel, Peggy Connelly, Werner Klemperer, Susan Cabot, Kathleen Freeman and, if you can spot her, future horror movie fave Barbara Steele. Jay Livingston’s and Ray Evan’s pleasant nominated song was finessed by Sam Cooke, as background to a scene with Cary and Sophia dancing at the country club.