Cheaper by the Dozen (1950): Clifton Web Popular Comedy

An extremely popular comedy at the box-office, Cheaper by the Dozen features British actor Clifton Webb in one of his best-known roles.

Based on the autobiographical novel by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, the tale revolves around efficiency expert Frank Bunker Gilbreth.

Played by Clifton Webb in campy gay way, Gilbreth is a benevolent despot in his own home, struggling to keep law and order due to the presence of twelve noisy children.

The always graceful Myrna Loy co-stars as Gilbreth’s wife Lillian, who provides a semblance of order to her lively household. Jeanne Crain plays the eldest daughter, Ernestine, who also serves as narrator (even if most of the voice-overs are redundant and unnecessary). In his daughter’s senior prom, the father unexpectedly becomes the life of the party.

The original book, which was a series of sketches and anecdotes, is adapted by Lamar Trotti into a shapelier linear script, focusing on Gilbreth’s ambition to deliver a series of lectures in Europe.

The funniest moments contain Gilbreth’s insistence upon filming his family’s tonsillectomies, including his own. There’s a nasty scene in which the Gilbreths flummox a lady (Mildred Natwick), who’s advocate of planned parenthood.

Some viewers were disappointed by the producers’ decision to retain the book’s downbeat ending to what’s otherwise a heartwarming sentimental comedy.

“Cheaper by the Dozen” was so commercially profitable (it was the fourth top-grossing picture of the year) that two years later Fox made a sequel, “Belles on their Toes,” which was not as funny or popular.

Inevitable comparisons were made between this patriarchal comedy and William Powell’s best known role in “Life With Father.”

Clifton Webb was Oscar-nominated as Best Actor for the 1948 comedy, “Sitting Pretty,” also made by Fox.

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