Houseboat (1958): Cary Grant and Sophia Loren in Shavelson’s Popular, Oscar-Nominated Romantic Comedy

In Melvin Shavelson’s Houseboat, a late romantic comedy in Cary Grant’s glorious career, the star scored yet another box-office smash, this time around opposite Sophia Loren, Hollywood’s newly arrived Italian actress.

Grade: C+ (**1/2* of *****)

Houseboat
Houseboat 1958.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Cary Grant and Sophia Loren
Story’s Origins

Grant’s wife Betsy Drake originally wrote the original script, for her and Grant to co-star. After he began an affair with Loren while shooting The Pride and the Passion, Grant arranged for Loren to take Drake’s place with a rewritten script for which Drake did not receive credit. The affair ended, when Loren opted to meet Italian producer Carlo Ponti.

Premise:

Grant plays Tom Winston, a widowed father who packs himself and his spoiled kiddies off to a ramshackle houseboat. Meanwhile, Sophia Loren’s Cinzia Zaccardi, trying to break loose from her tyrannical father (Eduardo Cianelli), is hired as Grant’s housekeeper and his children’s governess.

Though Grant struggles to maintain a detached approach, he and Loren are attracted to each other and end up together, though not before complications and reversals, recriminations and mishaps.

The children learn to be polite and behave like angels, as was the norm of TV’s sit-coms at the time.

Narrative Structure (Detailed Plot)

For over three years, Tom Winters (Grant), a lawyer for the State Department, has been separated from his wife and three children: David (Paul Petersen), Elizabeth (Mimi Gibson), and Robert (Charles Herbert).

At the start of the story, he returns home to Washington from Europe after his wife’s death. The children want to stay in the countryside with their mother’s wealthy parents and her sister Carolyn (Martha Hyer), but instead Tom takes them with him to live in Washington DC.

One evening, they attend outdoor concert, and after it ends, Robert separates himself from the family and disappears. He later shows up in a small rowboat with Italian girl Cinzia (Loren), who seeks to experience America.

They land at a nearby carnival, where they eat pizza, dance, and “win” harmonica. She brings Robert home to worried Tom, and the next day, he hires her as housekeeper to care for the children.

A series of misadventures follows, as Tom attempts to move Cinzia and the kids away from Washington to house in the country. but they wind up in leaky, rotting houseboat.

A complete renovation of the premises proves successful, and their floating new home becomes backdrop for episodes, in which Tom is finally able to win over his children. Meanwhile, Cinzia proves that she’s unable to cook, do laundry, or even make coffee.

Carolyn, suspecting that Cinzia’s relationship with Tom is not platonic, is joined by Tom’s military aide, Captain Wilson (Murray Hamilton), who rudely jokes about Cinzia’s living arrangement with Winters.

In the happy end, all misunderstandings are explained and Tom  marries his maid, as the children look on approvingly.

The on-screen romance between Grant and Loren in Houseboat suffered from tensions on the set, due to the couple’s break-up.

The Italian sex symbol opted to marry the older Italian movie mogul, Carlo Ponti.

Locations

Parts of the movie were filmed in Fort Washington, Maryland on the Potomac River and Piscataway Creek at the present site of Fort Washington marina.

This film was also shot on the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC.

The amusement park was Glen Echo Park, located on the Potomac River in the Cabin John section of Montgomery County, Maryland.

The home in opening scene is in Mount Vernon, Virginia

The hotel featured is the former Continental Hotel, located on Capitol Hill until it was demolished in the 1970s.

Also featured is the former Watergate barge stage behind the Lincoln Memorial on the Potomac River (1935–1965). The Watergate barge is not to be confused with the Watergate complex.

Cast

Photo: Grant and Freeman

Cary Grant as Tom Winters
Sophia Loren as Cinzia Zaccardi
Martha Hyer as Carolyn Gibson
Harry Guardino as Angelo Donatello
Eduardo Ciannelli as Arturo Zaccardi
Murray Hamilton as Capt. Alan Wilson
Mimi Gibson as Elizabeth Winters
Paul Petersen as David Winters
Charles Herbert as Robert Winters
Madge Kennedy as Mrs. Farnsworth
John Litel as William Farnsworth
Werner Klemperer as Harold Messner
Susan Cabot as Mrs. Eleanor Wilson
Kathleen Freeman as Laundromat gossip
Credits:
Directed by Melville Shavelson
Written by Shavelson, Jack Rose, and Betsy Drake (uncredited)Produced by Jack Rose
Cinematography Ray JuneEdited by Frank Bracht
Music by George Duning
Distributed by Paramount PicturesRelease date: November 19, 1958Running time: 109 minutes
Box office: $3.5 million (domestic rental)

Oscar Nominations: 2

Story and Screenplay (Original): Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose

Song: “Almost in Your Arms,” music and lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans

Oscar Awards:  None

Oscar Context:

The Writing Oscar went to Nedrick Young (using the pseudonym of Nathan E. Douglas, while blacklisted) and Jacob Smith for The Defiant Ones.
Frederick Lowe and Alan Jay Lerner won the Song Oscar for Gigi.