Sunday, June 01, 2008

cinema obscura: Norman Taurog's "Room for One More" (1952)



Cary Grant made a lot of films in his lifetime and perhaps the only one that stands as a truly lost movie is Norman Taurog's charming 1952 family comedy, "Room for One More," which teamed Grant with his adorable wife at the time, Betsy Drake.

Based on a memoir by Anne Perrot Rose, with a screenplay written by Rose and her husband Jack, the film warmly chronicles what happens when the independent-thinking Anne (played by Drake in the film) decides to add to her family by fostering a troubled teenage girl (Iris Mann) and an embittered little boy with braces on his legs (Clifford Tatum Jr.) - much to the chagrin of "Poppy" (Grant), as the Rose's three biological children (George Winslow, Gay Gordon and Malcolm Cassell) call their father.

Given the recent popularity of such large-family remakes as "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Yours, Mine and Ours" (both pretty bad), it's surprising that Warners has not only ignored this property but inexplicably buried it. When the film went into syndication in the 1960s, it was given a new title, "The Easy Way," so as not to confuse it with the Warners TV series adapted from it in 1962 (starring Peggy McCay and Andrew Duggan in the Drake and Grant roles). The series lasted only one season but the film has been saddled with the replacement title ever since. It has never been released on home entertainment in any form and now it's even disappeared from television. It was last broadcast on Turner Classics several years ago - with "The Easy Way" superimposed over the original title in the credits.

"Room for One More" is an effortless mix of comedy and pathos, incredibly warm and poignant. Drake in particular shines with her brusk line-readings. It's evident to me that the sporty British tomgirl persona that Julie Andrews and Emma Thompson both exhibit comes directly from Drake. She was the template for this screen type. Andrews even appropriated Drake's "look" for "The Sound of Music."

As for Grant, he was always great with children on screen, as evidenced by "Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House," "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" and "Houseboat" and he's entirely memorable, entirely Cary Grant here.

Incidentally, Drake came up with the idea for "Houseboat" and even wrote the original screenplay, but by the time the film was made, she was no longer Mrs. Grant; the script was rewritten and Sophia Loren was cast in the female lead.

If there's any way you can track down "Room for One More," by all means do. See it and savor it. Hopefully, Warners will find it on some studio shelf, where it's been long forgotten, dust it off and release it on DVD.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Variety ad for trade-show screening of "Room for One More" in 1952)

10 comments:

Charlie Richards said...

I wanted to tell you how much I agree with you on "Room for One More." (Yeah, I always thought it was called "The Easy Way"!) Now I feel gyped that I can't see it anymore. Thanks for reminding me of this little gem.

Shirley said...

Oh my God! I completely forgot about this movie -- that's how long it's been since I've seen it. It must be rescued! What's wrong with the studio for not ever putting it out on video or DVD? I'd really like to see it again.

Barbara & John said...

Joe, My husband and I want you to know how much we've enjoyed this film, too. We both miss it. We used to read you years ago in the Philly News -- in fact, most of the time we didn't go to a movie unless we read your review first! We agreed with your reviews and have missed your input tremendously. Now we can keep up with you again!

Daryl Chin said...

Always enjoy your comments about some forgotten film. Yes, i do remember ROOM FOR ONE MORE, in fact, it seems to have been a title that went into "syndication" vrey early on, and it actually played constantly on TV in the late 1950s.

I think it's the best pairing of Cary Grant and Betsy Drake, and if i remember correctly it was a very personal film for Grant (who, i think, helped to produce the movie). There are incidents that are hard to forget (like the crippled boy going on an arduous camping trip in order to get a Scout merit badge) and i also remember Betsy Drake's speech about foster care (how they have to remain foster parents because they're not rich enough to outright adopt the children).

Then the TV series came on... i also remember that (i remember the theme song: "In our little house/There's Dad and Mother/Sister and brother... There's always room for one more!") but the movie had a lot of very sad undercurrents which amde it particularly poignant. How this movie disappeared is beyond me.

joe baltake said...

Daryl--

As usual, you have an awesome memory. I also remember, with great fondness, the TV series of "Room for One More" (but, then, I always liked Peggy McCay and Andrew Duggan - no Drake and Grant, mind you, but still very good). I also agree that "Room for One More" is the better of the two films that Grant and Drake made together. The film is naturally witty and profoundly moving.

jbryant said...

Wonder if there's some underlying rights issue. Hard to believe Warners would sit on Cary Grant film made at the height of his popularity.

Norman Taurog had a pretty uneven career, but I really love a film he made just a year or two before this one, "Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone." It's aired a couple of times on Turner Classics in the last couple of years, so perhaps it doesn't qualify as "Cinema Obscura," but it's a very funny comedy/murder mystery featuring the unlikely but highly appealing team of Marjorie Main and James Whitmore. The mystery is light but involving, and the dialogue is quite colorful and frequently hilarious. One of the most satisfying things about TCM is the unexpected appearance of such wonderful little gems. With any luck, they will once again find room for "Room for One More" on their schedule.

Jason said...

This was a wonderful film, and you have finally answered my question of 'What happened to it?' Thank you very much!

Kent said...

As they say, Cary Grant could do no wrong.

Susan L. said...

I've just finished watching this wonderful little gem again! One of my all-time favorites. Now if you could just find out what happened to "Good Sam" with Gary Cooper...another obscure and lost gem of a film.

Alice said...

TCM just showed this film, and though I missed the beginning, the ending - from where the children vote to keep Jimmy John on - was superb. Iris Mann, who played the adopted girl, chose to dance with Cary Grant at her prom. What a fabulous memory. And the Scout awards ceremony just makes you cry. Great movie!