“Cinema Snacks” is an unwholesome nibble through the minor classics.
Warning: As snacks ruin your dinner, so too may spoilers ruin your watching experience. Graze with caution.
Today’s recommended snack: candy corn.
Cary Grant starred in two films with his third wife, Betsy Drake. The first, 1948’s Every Girl Should Be Married, is unmemorable in every sense except for its exemplary demonstration of that old romantic comedy formula: stalking + persistence = true love. In Room For One More, made three years after their marriage, Drake redeemed somewhat her screen presence in relation to her husband. In their first film, she plays a woman pursuing lawful nuptials with the terrifying focus of a big-game hunter. In the second, she takes a tiny step up the ladder to play Anna Rose who, as it turns out, was a real woman whose memoirs were used as the jumping-off point for Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson’s screenplay.
Room For One More has much in common with one of Shavelson’s later writing (and directing) efforts, Yours, Mine and Ours (1968), a film which inexplicably obsessed me as a teenager. Both films concern themselves primarily with domestic foibles – busy kitchens, the mini Shakespearean tragedies of children’s lives, and the frustrations of grown-ups who just want to get laid. Yes, really.
There are several interweaving themes in Room For One More – adoption, disability, inclusion. It’s the kind of thing you show to your kids with the hope that they don’t turn into little delinquents someday. But the raison d’etre for the running time (appropriately short), and the question we spend the length of the film waiting to have answered is: will Cary Grant ever get a second alone with his wife to get lucky?
You see, Anna is the kind of woman who takes spiders out of the house in paper-covered cups. She’s sweet and moral in a way that would be insufferable if only we all didn’t know someone like that. She’s the kind of mother who makes all other mothers look like the grimy collection of hair and crumbs at the bottom of a dustpan. Compelled by her overwhelming goodness, Anna takes it upon herself to adopt a child after an afternoon trip to the orphanage with the PTA. The rest of the PTA take the aforementioned hair-and-crumb route – even the wonderful Mary Treen (Cousin Tilly in It’s A Wonderful Life), who sadly is only in this film as snob-lady filler. No one but sweet Anna want to adopt, as Miss Kenyon (Lurene Tuttle) the orphanage administrator says, kids like “that snaggle-toothed boy there with the butch haircut.” Ouch.
Meanwhile at home, “Poppy” Rose (Cary Grant) bakes a layer cake, ignorant of his wife’s new habit of quietly sneaking children into the family circle.
“Poppy” Rose is an early-1950’s proto-feminist husband. He helps in the kitchen, he’s active in raising his kids. But he’s also Cary Grant, which means that he’s a round-the-clock snark machine, and a randy one at that. He’s happy to do the baking, but there are some strings attached. Probably g-strings.
Anna knows every trick in the book for slipping away at the last second. As she’s escaping his embrace at the sink, he tells her that “man does not live by bread alone,” which is 1950’s film-speak for “dear god woman, this dry spell is killing me.” As a newly-married with no children, I’m just going to take this film as a warning for the future: when you have four kids, no one’s getting any, even if your husband stays home baking cakes and he look like Cary Grant. And, who wouldn’t be too tired for the bedroom, when you’ve got a kid who’s a miniature Don Rickles critiquing your parenting night and noon:
Eventually the Rose family has two adopted children to contend with: Jane (Iris Miller) and Jimmy-John (Clifford Tatum Jr.), who bring the number of child actors in this fictional household to five. It doesn’t take long for Jane to overcome her juvenile detention roots and embrace her new family, but Jimmy-John…Jimmy-John is another story.
You see, Jimmy-John has spent most of his life in the hospital with polio. He has braces on his legs and the practiced Hoboken accent of a kid with an overzealous acting coach. For fun he does things like beat up his new siblings and play peeping tom with the neighbours. This kid has the makings of a serial killer, and it’s up to Cary Grant and Betsy Drake to save him. Which they do, with some incredible patience and an unexpected birds-and-the-bees talk which produces one of the strangest lines of dialogue Cary Grant ever uttered in the movies: “Women keep a nest inside of them.” As cringe-worthy as it is to hear my fantasy lover utter those words, the costume designer used enough creative intelligence to make it all okay:
In some ways, it’s all downhill after the white shorts. There are, however some surprisingly poignant moments to enjoy, such as when “Poppy” and his new daughter share a dance at New Years.
Or the magic of “Poppy” forcing his family to sing all the verses of Good King Wenceslas on Christmas morning, with Anna accompanying on harmonica:
And then there is the question, of course, that was posed at the beginning: will Cary Grant finally scratch that itch?
Well, you’ll just have to find out for yourself! Room For One More is available on DVD through the Warner Archive. If you’re deep into the Cary Grant filmography, you’ll find this a pleasant enough diversion. If you’re looking for a Cary-Grant-can’t-get-laid plot with a little more sparkle and sexiness, try your hand with That Touch of Mink (1962).