Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)
Father of the Tribe
No person with inner dignity is ever embarrassed - Frank
I actually think that the 1950 version of "Cheaper by the Dozen" is one of the most misinterpreted movies I have ever watched. What I mean is that many a critic has said how wrong this movie is in the way it represents life in the family of the Gilbreth's, how dated the attitudes are and how wrong it is that Frank the patriarch does things his way whether his children and wife like it or not. But to me they have missed the point because this is a comedy about extremes adapted from the book written by two of the children from the real Gilbreth family. We have the extremely large family, the extremely authoritative rule of Frank and so on but it is amusing because everything from characters to situations is bigger than life and whilst it may seem like Frank is a demanding authoritarian not everything goes his way.
To be honest their really isn't a storyline to "Cheaper by the Dozen" rather a glimpse at the extreme life in the Gilbreth household, yes there is a surprising ending to this movie but it is more a series of episodes. And those episodes take in moving home to a new city, Frank settling the children into school and running the household in as efficient manner as he can come up with. All of these events blend nicely together so not once does it feel like just a series of set pieces.
Now here is the thing about "Cheaper by the Dozen" and that is it is a movie made in the 1950s retelling about life in the 1920s and embellishing it to be extreme. So whilst the attitude towards women and family is now shocking it is pushed to be slightly OTT on purpose so that it becomes funny. Maybe in this day and age watching Frank chaperone his daughter to a dance seems so wrong but then it becomes funny because of they way Frank learns something important at the dance. And the same with the way he tries to run the family as efficiently as possible, it is so extreme that it becomes comical that down to the minutest detail such as bathing and dressing goes through an efficiency test. Yes the reality of life in the 1920s is skimmed over and made light off but that is to me the point, this is a movie which is poking fun at the life by making it an extreme. Maybe I missed the point, maybe this isn't meant to be funny but with the exception of the surprise ending it is all very comical.
Whilst there are a lot of enjoyable performances in "Cheaper by the Dozen" and both Myrna Loy as Matriarch Lillian and Jeanne Crain as eldest daughter Ann do a good job of standing out within the large Gilbreth family this is a movie which is really all about Frank. As such Clifton Webb leads this tale nicely as Frank, delivering the dictatorial patriarch perfectly so that you can see the reality of the character and his dated view points yet laugh at how extreme he is. It's impossible not to laugh at the utter daftness of Frank demonstrating efficient bathing to the headmistress of a school or the stupidity of working out which way is quicker to dress and it's because of Webb's comic flare that it ends up so amusing. But there is more to Webb's performance that being comically extreme because there is a sweetness to it as well, as there are some nice tender moments which creep through such as when he dances with his daughter Ann.
What this all boils down to is that whilst some may see "Cheaper by the Dozen" as an archaic movie with archaic viewpoints for me it is a comedy which pokes fun at these view points making them extremes and utterly daft. Yes the ending to this movie is a surprise and turns what appears to be a comedy into something more bitter but in a way it completes this tale nicely. And whether you find it an archaic movie full of bigoted values or not the comic performance of Clifton Webb is perfect delivering many a laugh at the extreme daftness of this efficiency driven man.
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