Houseboat April 21, 2017
Leave it to Cary Grant to make domesticity seem cool again (if it ever were). In 1958’s Houseboat, he’s a 50-something widower in need of some love. Any place else, that’d be a bore – let romantic comedies featuring pretty young thing one and pretty young thing two make way. And yet in fictional bachelorhood supported by three kids is he more investing than Bill Holden or Gregory Peck ever were in their respective heydays. Fact is is that Grant could recite the periodic table of elements and retain more swagger than Elvis in his ‘69 comeback special prime.
In Houseboat, Grant is at his most neutered, but that shouldn’t suggest that he isn’t unfathomably charming. The film is about as good as Indiscreet, another rom-com he made that year which co-starred star Ingrid Bergman and not a woman young enough to be his daughter. Which is still pretty good.
In Houseboat, he is Tom Winters, a businessman at a loss after his estranged wife suddenly passes and he’s made responsible for his children (Paul Petersen, Charles Herbert, and Mimi Gibson), all of whom he hasn’t often seen for years. Though the tots understandably would prefer to stay with their aunt, the affluent Carolyn (Martha Hyer), in the expansive country, Winters decides it would be best to take his children back to the
Washington D.C. he’s called home for a handful of years.
But it doesn’t take long for it to become apparent that the children cannot and will not take to city life. So when Elizabeth suggests that Winters and his kids stay in her guesthouse, which is being moved to different property, he jumps at the chance. With a recently hired live-in nanny, Cinzia (Sophia Loren), in tow, he and the troupe jumpstart the relocation process. Which goes to hell after the man driving the towing vehicle carrying the guest house screws up royally and somehow manages to get the home destroyed by a passenger train.
Not wanting to admit the direness of the situation to himself, Winters makes use of the wonders of denial and ends up unwisely purchasing a melodramatically run-down houseboat near the area in which his family was originally planning to move.
Surprisingly, the decision proves to be a good one. The kids, all precocious and maybe too extraordinarily intelligent for their age, enjoy the way the situation calls for them to always be on their feet. And they love Cinzia, who turns out to be helpful in getting the children to get to know their father after so much time away. But most importantly does the purchase aid Winters in learning how to be a father, in learning how to balance work and family, and, eventually, in learning how to love again – Cinzia, as it turns out, just might be the woman he was meant to restart with.
As far as romance goes and as far as comedy goes, consider Houseboat to be about as risky as The Donna Reed Show in its final season. It’s all predictable comfort food, nothing particularly amorous nor knee slap worthy but nonetheless perfectly easy to like. Watching too many movies like Houseboat in a row might kill you – its formulaic slightness can grow tiresome the more fixated you become – but a small dose can get you far. Especially when the leads are actors as instantaneously amiable as Grant and