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Belles on Their Toes

Belles on Their Toes(1952)

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On the day that Jane, the youngest of her twelve children, graduates from college, Dr. Lillian M. Gilbreth remembers her beloved husband Frank, and how this happy day has come about: After Frank's death, in the 1920s, Lillian is forced to sell their home in Montclair, New Jersey, and move to a smaller house. Various relatives, including the overbearing Leora, pressure Lillian to allow them to rear the children, but Lillian is determined to keep her family together. With the help of her eldest daughter Anne and the family handyman, Tom Bracken, Lillian maintains order, and decides that while she is away fulfilling the lecture tour obligations of Frank, an industrial engineer and efficiency expert, the children should go to Nantucket for the summer. There, while the others enjoy the beach, Ernestine becomes besotted with Al Lynch, an oafish college student, and is quickly engaged to him. The family bemoans Martha's insistence that their budget will allow them to eat nothing except beans, but the clever Martha arranges for them to crash a barbecue hosted by a neighbor. During the barbecue, Lillian arrives and informs Anne that the lecture tour was not successful, because the chauvinistic engineers refused to renew Frank's contracts, even though Lillian is emminently qualified. Anne helps the family by staying home from college and getting a job, and back in Montclair, she mistakes handsome young doctor Bob Grayson for a barber while trying to obtain a discount for her many siblings. Bob is amused by the error and entranced by the lovely Anne, but does not succeed in learning her name. Shortly after, Lillian is visited by influential businessman Sam Harper, who hopes that she can recommend some of the men trained by her husband. When Lillian reveals that she trained the men along with Frank, Sam grumbles that women are "creeping in everywhere" and refuses her offer to train executives for him. Lillian angrily shows Sam the door, but he reconsiders and sends her enough students to establish a profitable school. Anne returns to college, although she happily comes home for a visit at Thanksgiving. Also visiting is Al, whose lack of manners irritates the boys, especially Frank, the eldest, and Frank conspires with his brothers to drive Al away. Lillian reprimands Frank for his interference, but when Frank shows her that Ernestine is cheerfully dancing with another boy, Lillian accepts his admonition that from now on, the men of the family will handle certain matters. Later, the Engineers' Club of America invites Lillian to give a speech, but when the chairman discovers that "Dr. L. M. Gilbreth" is a woman, he turns her away at the door. Infuriated, Lillian does not pay attention to her driving and smashes into a parked truck. Anne rushes to the hospital, where Bob, who is delighted to see her again, assures her that Lillian will recover completely. After Lillian's recuperation, Sam, who has become devoted to her, decides that she needs publicity to overcome the prejudice against women engineers. The family is aghast when Sam hosts a public premiere of the newsreel he has had made of them, during which their jerky movements provoke gales of laughter. Despite their mortification, the scheme of promoting Lillian's name works and she is offered a professorship at Purdue University. When Lillian tells Anne of the job offer, and of how she will need to rely upon her for help now that she has graduated from college, Anne hestitates to inform her of her engagement to Bob. Instead, Anne tells Bob that they must postpone their marriage, and Bob bitterly accuses her of sacrificing her life to a family that is merely using her. Lillian notices that Bob has stopped calling, but Anne deflects her questions and agrees to accompany Ernestine on a date to a dance with Morton Dykes and his gawky, Southern cousin Franklyn. As the children rush about preparing for the dance, Sam arrives and attempts to propose to Lillian. His proposal is continually interrupted by the hectic comings and goings, and by the arrival of Bob, who informs Lillian that he is leaving that night for Detroit. Lillian and Sam go to the dance to tell Anne, and Lillian urges her daughter to be happy and have a family of her own. Before Anne can leave, however, Bob arrives for one last attempt at a reconciliation and is stunned when Lillian commands him to take Anne. Lillian and Sam then enter and win a waltz contest, and as they are driving home, Sam comments on how crowded Lillian's life is, and Lillian gently tells him that there is not enough room for him, too. Lillian's reminiscences come to an end, and when Anne accuses her of sleeping through Jane's graduation, Lillian replies that she was saying "thank you" to someone who loved them very much.