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Room for One More

Gasser

Room for One More (1952)

    Despite being a super dashing romantic lead, Cary Grant did not shy away from fatherly roles like the one he takes on in Room for One More. Watching this for the first time, it seemed to me Grant was essentially playing house. He stars opposite his real-life wife Betsy Drake in a role and story almost devoid of romance. Grant’s first foray into fictional family life came four years earlier with Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and although he would have no children with Drake –or until age 62– he makes a great father figure to his Room for One More children.

     The film opens on Drake as Anna Rose wandering through an orphanage with a group of women and taking to heart the words of the director who wishes she could find homes for the adolescent children over the infants that are in high-demand. Anna reluctantly leaves with a promise to discuss with her husband the fostering of a girl with a troubled past. Jump now to Grant as George “Poppy” Rose in the kitchen, wearing an apron and trying to ice a cake, while three children run about, a stray dogs attempts to move into the home and a cat underneath the stove produces kittens. Despite the look of things, Poppy is the breadwinner of the family, but seems to contribute as much to the rearing of the children as his wife.

     The next morning, the orphanage director shows up with teenage Jane (Iris Mann) and convinces the parents to take the girl in for two weeks. Jane is trouble at first, hiding hamburgers under her pillow thinking she will not be fed the next day, refusing to join in the post-dinner clean-up efforts, etc. A very ingenious mother Anna is, however, as she seems to easily whittle away Jane’s shell and make her one of the family. The two weeks pass and the whole family is set on keeping Jane.

     Next, before leaving on a beach vacation, Poppy is informed he is to pick up an orphan boy from school to take with them. The child is trouble, tripping other kids and refusing to partake in his studies. Poppy goes into his classroom to let him know he will not join the Roses on vacation, but upon seeing the braces on his legs, easily changes his mind. The boy, Jimmy-John (Clifford Tatum Jr.), starts out refusing to speak and socks one of the girls in the eye. Later, when Anna asks him if he knows how to drive a car, he replies for the first time with, “of course not” so the mother lets go of the wheel and requires the child to steer them to safety. Next, the parents try to teach Jimmy-John to ride a bike while wearing his leg braces, but fail. That night the boy tries again but stomps the bike to ruin out of frustration. The Roses are looking to take the kid back to his school, but Jimmy-John begs that if the other children are agreeable, that he stay. All vote by secret ballot for the orphan to “leave” but unable to read and providing a sob story about being in an out of the hospital all his life, the children read aloud the ballots as “stay” instead.

     By the end of the picture, the five-child Rose clan is content as ever. We witness happy feats for both Jane and Jimmy-John and many lump-in-throat moments as we see the bond between foster parent and child.

     Drake is no prize actress, but she makes for a wonderfully kind mother, although one who leaves her husband feeling neglected. I have always found Grant’s performances opposite children to be utterly charming. He seems like the most reasonable father, more likely to comically grumble about the annoyance of the kids rather than punish them.

     Grant would divorce Drake in 1959; she was one of five wives he would have, with this relationship enduring 10 years. The couple also made Every Girl Should Be Married four years before this one. Drake, still living, made only eight feature films.

  • Room for One More is set for 1:30 p.m. ET June 6 and 1:45 p.m. ET Aug. 21 on TCM.

Source: Cary Grant: A Class Apart documentary

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We’re Not Dressing

Gasser

We're Not Dressing (1934)

    I know I’ve raved about Carole Lombard before but haven’t actually managed to review any of her movies –but it’s not my fault! I went through a couple month phase a year or so ago when TCM was playing a bunch of her stuff, but the channel has not managed to devote time to her since. Thank goodness for Netflix. I’ve queued the “Carole Lombard Glamour Collection”, so expect a number of reviews from that set over the next couple months.

     I would call We’re Not Dressing minor Lombard as it is not her best work, but still the actress’ traditional role: wealthy beauty in a romantic entanglement. It came smack dab in the middle of her Hollywood career and would feature a rather young-looking 31-year-old Bing Crosby, only a few years into acting. Bing as Stephen is a deckhand on the yacht of Doris Worthington, played by Lombard. Doris is being courted by two prince brothers, one of which is played by a very young “Raymond” Milland. Along for the voyage are Doris’ uncle Hubert (Leon Errol) and friend Edith (Ethel Merman). Despite the pining princes, Doris is distracted by Stephen, who has been tasked with looking after her pet bear cub (inspiration for Bringing Up Baby?). The heiress is playing cruel to the young man, however, to mask her feelings for a subordinate. 

     A drunken George manages to somehow cause the boat to sink by spinning with the wheel, so Stephen rescues Doris, who has been knocked unconscious by the crumbling ship, and her bear. The duo, along with the princes, George and Edith, wash up on an island, where the parties assume Stephen should be waiting on them. Toppling the social structure, Stephen tells everyone they must work and begins building his own hut and fire and cooking his own clams.  The others stick with stubborn Doris until they are hungry enough to agree to dig their own clams and gather firewood. Doris eventually “earns” some food when she delivers a sack of what turn out to be empty clam shells, angering Stephen. We soon learn that there is a couple conducting research on another part of the island whom Doris discovers, but fails to tell the others. A romance is blooming between she and Stephen, but he eventually takes the whole situation as a prank.

     There’s a great repeated exchange between Bing and Lombard that cements for us that they have feelings for each other. While aboard the ship, a subordinate Stephen is honest with Doris about a roller-skating incident involving her bear, which angers the gal to the point of slapping the deckhand, who responds with a peck on the lips. Later, when Doris delivers the empty clam shells, Stephen slaps Doris, hard, and she kisses him. 

     I must make note of Ethel Merman. I have known the woman only by her grating singing voice and as an older woman in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, so I was hardly expecting the beautiful young woman with a great body. This was only her second film and her singing voice had yet to mature to the annoying extend to which I’m accustomed. Additionally, Gracie Allen plays the dumb wife of the researcher (George Burns) whose ditsyness makes one think he is listening to a Marx brother. She develops a “moose trap” meant to catch  four mice because one is a mouse, two is mice and two mice are a moose. This film might be worth checking out just for her:

Gracie Martin: We just caught Tarzan’s mate!
George Martin: Tarzan is a character in a book.
Gracie Martin: Well, maybe he got out!

Boys Town

Wowza!

Boys Town (1938)

     By virtue of the performances alone, Boys Town earns a Wowza! rating. The film won Spencer Tracy a Best Actor Oscar and set Mickey Rooney on a path that for many years involved only primary roles and Grade-A pictures. It is based on a true story (and also won Best Original Screenplay) that conveys one of the most heart-warming tales I’ve ever heard.

     Tracy as Father Flanagan commences the film by rescuing five homeless boys from jail after they vandalize, steal and cause general disruption in Omaha. He rents a home and sets it up as a shelter for them based on the notion that if boys are given a proper upbringing and the right people to turn to when in need, they will not grow up to be hoodlums. Flanagan’s tenant list grows to 50 before he sets his sights higher and opts to build a “town” on a 200-acre parcel of land. Financially, he makes all this happen on donations and the good graces of a shopkeeper willing to loan him funding.

     Boys Town with its gymnasium, post office, dormitory, sports fields and own bus into town becomes a wild success, and the facility designed to serve 500 boys is beyond capacity. The boys literally run their own town, in a way. They elect a mayor every six months and select commissioners. The fence-less facility requires the kids to act on the honor system and tattle on themselves if they have misbehaved.

     Enter: Rooney as Whitey Marsh. His older brother asks Flanagan to visit him in jail where he requests Whitey be taken to Boys Town so he can cease aspiring to follow in his gangster brother’s footsteps. Flanagan finds Whitey in the midst of a poker game, smoking and being otherwise disrespectful. The Father essentially manhandles the boy into coming to Boys Town where the rough boy decides to stay once the lunch bell rings. Whitey persists in making trouble, getting into fights and generally earning the ire of the mayor and most other boys. He does, however, have the affection of Pee Wee (Bobs Watson) who is “sort of the mascot” of the town and generally adorable. Whitey aspires to be mayor only once he learns that high officials have access to a billiards room and other perks. A kerfuffle during the election sends Whitey packing in anger but a near-tragedy brings him back.

     Tracy is quite impressive as Father Flanagan with his hint of an Irish brogue hanging under his words and his overwhelmingly calm and confident demeanor with all that goes on. What most caught be off guard, however, was Rooney. Within 30 seconds of him on screen, I was blown away by this boy who was nothing like the Rooney I had seen in half a dozen other flicks. The 18-year-old affects the most nasty facial expressions and smoker’s voice one can imagine. His attitude and the way he throws his head –and other people– around conveys through body language alone the “trouble” this boy faces if he is not straightened out. I have never considered myself much of a Rooney fan, but this certainly changes my stance.

     Boys Town was directed by Norman Taurog, who was known for his talent directing kids and was responsible for other Rooney works, such as Young Tom Edison. Both Tracy and Rooney, who were generally considered difficult to work with, were on best behavior for this filming because they believed in the story. When Rooney, however, argued over an emotional scene with Watson (the climactic one to which I alluded), Taurog told Rooney he could do the scene as he wanted but that Watson was generally stealing the show (which is almost true). From then on the teenager did not question a bit of direction.

     The movie spawned a sequel, which I also have recorded, so it will likely pop up on here shortly, but I am not sure how it can top Boys Town. Any story about kindness to the homeless always chokes me up a bit, but this movie is overflowing with the goodness of mankind. Seemingly Father Flanagan is right in that no boy is bad if he is given a chance. Even the original five chaps in trouble with the law at the film’s start were on their best behavior as soon as Flanagan had them in custody. Apparently, all children just long to be looked after and cared for. The Boys Town organization persists today and has grown to occupy 13 areas nationwide with its headquarters remaining in Boys Town, Nebraska.

Source: Robert Osborne

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