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Friday, February 7, 2014

HOUSEBOAT (1958)

This painfully formulaic domestic comedy stars Cary Grant as an absentee widower trying to reconnect with his three kids and Sophia Loren as the directionless daughter of a famous Italian conductor who accidentally falls into his life incognito as a housekeeper/nanny who makes everything better. (What is this, MARY POPPINS/’64?) Writer/director Melville Shavelson, a Bob Hope/Danny Kaye specialist who really should have known better, is unable to move things along without making everyone behave in an idiotic manner we’re supposed to find both hilarious & adorable. (Perhaps they did at the time. The film was very successful and even got an Oscar® nom. for best Original Story.) Visually, things are just as bad with huge chunks of exposition played in front of dead process shots and on airless soundstages. Grant, who’d just lost Loren to her future husband Carlo Ponti, seems less out-of-touch dad than bewildered discard. And Loren, who’s does well with the kiddies, looks unaccountably drab, made up as she were still lip-synching to Renata Tebaldi’s voice in AIDA/’53. (Someone must have noticed since she was given an entirely new, lighter look for the big climatic dance sequence where she suddenly looks like her fabulous self.) Grant happily returned to form on his next, NORTH BY NORTHWEST/’59 while Loren continued her up & down ways with English language pics, though never again let a cinematographer mismanage her look as the usually gifted Ray June did in what turned out to be his final film.

DOUBLE-BILL: Shavelson & Loren reunited, with Clark Gable in for Grant, to somewhat better effect on IT STARTED IN NAPLES/’60.

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