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Houseboat

Houseboat(1958)

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teaser Houseboat (1958)

With his third of five wives, actress-writer Betsy Drake, Cary Grant shared two co-starring film vehicles, 1948's Every Girl Should Be Married and 1952's Room for One More. They had planned yet another film together, Houseboat (1958), based on a screenplay by Drake herself.

By the time the movie was made, however, Grant had become hopelessly infatuated with Sophia Loren, his costar in 1957's The Pride and the Passion, and arranged for her to replace Drake in Houseboat. Adding insults to injury, Drake's screenplay was almost completely reworked by two other screenwriters, Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson (who also directed), and she received no writing credit. And the revised script was Oscar®-nominated for Best Original Story and Screenplay!

Houseboat, produced by Paramount, is a light comedy about a wealthy widower (Grant) who packs his three unruly children off to a ramshackle houseboat and hires an Italian woman (Loren) as a housekeeper. Although he thinks she's a poor immigrant girl, in reality she's the spoiled daughter of a famous orchestra conductor (Eduardo Ciannelli) and is rebelling against him. As sitcom-styled complications pile on, the pair fall in love and even the kids shape up in response to Loren's fiery yet lovable personality.

During location filming of The Pride and the Passion in Spain, despite an almost 30-year difference in their ages, a love-struck Grant had wooed Loren with gifts and candlelit dinners. But she reportedly remained lukewarm to his romantic overtures because of her emotional commitment to her mentor, producer Carlo Ponti (also her senior, by some 22 years).

When filming began on Houseboat, Loren frustrated Grant by remaining aloof and having Ponti accompany her to the set every day. According to biographer Marc Eliot, Grant vented his anger on Shavelson, "who had to listen to him carp over the smallest of details." Grant learned during the shoot -- through a Louella Parsons column, no less -- that Ponti had obtained a quickie Mexican divorce from his wife and married Loren. The next time he saw the couple on the set, Grant congratulated them, kissing Loren on the cheek and shaking Ponti's hand.

The following day, the two stars filmed the climactic wedding sequence, with Ponti watching every move as the debonair Grant "married" a radiant Loren. She would recall, "I was aware how painful it was for him to play this scene with me... to take me in his arms and kiss me." Grant was said to have drowned his sorrow in drink that night in his favorite booth at Chasen's. But his producer friend Bill Frye said later that Grant's "love affair" had never been real to begin with: "It was all just some sort of extended daydream that he made up. Sophia Loren was never his to lose. It was just another one of his crazy romantic fantasies that could have had no other ending."

But the damage to Grant's marriage had been done. By October of 1958, he and Drake had announced their separation, although they were not divorced until 1962. (Loren and Ponti had their Mexican marriage annulled in 1957 to save him from charges of bigamy in Italy, but remarried in 1966 and remained wed until his death in 2007.)

Ironically, Houseboat was a huge success. Despite his unhappiness during filming, Grant was his usual irrepressible self onscreen, his charm and comic verve intact. Loren's sprightly performance was her most accessible yet to American audiences, and the romantic chemistry between the costars remains palpable. The film also was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Original Song, "Almost in Your Arms," by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

Producer: Jack Rose
Director: Melville Shavelson
Screenplay: Melville Shavelson, Jack Rose
Cinematography: Ray June
Film Editing: Frank Bracht
Original Music: George Duning, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (song)
Art Direction: Hal Pereira, John B. Goodman
Costume Design: Edith Head
Cast: Cary Grant (Tom Winters), Sophia Loren (Cinzia Zaccardi), Harry Guardino (Angelo Donatello), Eduardo Ciannelli (Arturo Zaccardi), Murray Hamilton (Capt. Alan Wilson), Mimi Gibson (Elizabeth Winters), Paul Petersen (David Winters), Werner Klemperer (Harold Messner).
C-110m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe

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