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Running Time: 109 minutes
Starring: Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Martha Hyer, Harry Guardino, Eduardo Ciannelli
Written by: Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose
Directed by: Melville Shavelson
Retail Price: $24.99
Features: Teaser Trailer, Theatrical Trailer, Photo Gallery
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, French Mono, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (15 Scenes)
Released: November 5th, 2002
"Houseboat" is sheerly delightful. Of course that statement comes from one who appreciates the charms of Sophia Loren and Cary Grant. For you see, "Houseboat" without either of them would be quite generic, but with those two formidable actors, fireworks fly. Darling Sophia has always been recognized as one of the world's most beautiful women, but, her film roles with rare exception have not allowed her to be more than a mannequin. If "Boy on a Dolphin" is still fondly remembered, its memory is sifted with the image of Loren rising from the sea in a wet shirt that would put both Farrah Fawcett and Jacqueline Bisset to shame; Loren's Oscar came for a role which deglamorized her, dirtied her up and filmed her in unflattering neo-realism ("Two Women"), a feat that director Arthur Hiller unsuccessfully tried to accomplish in his ill-conceived film of the musical "Man of La Mancha," of which Loren is the only saving grace. There are very few films that one could readily associate with Loren. Go ahead, try it. Take two minutes. Other than the four films already mentioned, name a Sophia Loren film. Okay, what did you come up with? Personally, I came up with "More than a Miracle."*
"Houseboat," strictly a situation comedy on a major film budget, at least allows Sophie the opportunity to play a role other than "beautiful." With Cary Grant as her costar, you can definitely count on romantic entanglements.
Reunited after "The Pride and the Passion" (words which aptly described their own torrid affair), Grant and Loren hardly have to work at being a believable couple. Grant has the harder role, he has to be blind to the fact that Loren is a stunningly beautiful woman - and that's not near-sightedness, that is legal blindness. The plot, thin as a crepe, is a foreshadowing of what the 1960's had in store. A young free-sprited woman is hired to take care of several children, bringing new outlooks on life to the entire family. Gee, didn't I just describe "Mary Poppins," "The Sound of Music," "Nanny and the Professor" and to a darker degree, "The Innocents?" Here in "Houseboat" though, the titular home does not appear in 1910 London, nor is ensconced on the Jungfrau and, mercifully, there are no ghostly apparitions. The only magic around is movie magic which dutifully, if predictably directed by Melville Shavelson, lights up the screen as the sparks fly between Cinzia and Tom (Loren and Grant).
With only half of the children as featured in 1965's "The Sound of Music," (one of them being teen idol, and Donna Reed's television son, Paul Peterson), Cinzia still sweeps into the Winters family in all her ineptitude. Her charms capture the children first, of course, before she awakens in father Tom a love that he's definitely not feeling with his straight-laced fiancee (Martha Hyer in the equivalent of Eleanor Parker's Baroness in the aforementioned "The Sound of Music"). Cinzia even brings - I can hear you shuddering - MUSIC into the house again, and yes, the children do sing along with her.
So with "Houseboat," and its non-descript directorial style, you have a foreshadowing of what television and movies would have in store for the next decade. Even Grant would semi-reprise this role, as he takes on several children and Leslie Caron in "Father Goose." Given the constraints of the titular vehicle, movie audiences (and tv viewers) would see this simple formula for success grow grander and grander, often better, but only rarely capture the intimacy of "Houseboat."
I do have to say that screenwriter Jack Rose is the man behind "Houseboat," and in seeking out his credits, I have found that not only did he pen this charming little film, but several personal favorites such as "The Five Pennies" (watch lovely little Susan Gordon grow up into divine Tuesday Weld), the blink-and-you'll-miss-her Debbie Reynolds' "The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady," the Doris Day spectacular "It's a Great Feeling," Bob Hope's "The Paleface," another Sophia Loren comedy "It Started in Naples" not to mention 1981's "The Great Muppet Caper." Somehow I think this prolific man should have been recognized several times over for his wonderful work.
*"More than a Miracle" - a charming fairy-tale romance starring Loren and Omar Sharif; neither of whom would ever be sexier, nor photographed as elegantly. 1967.
A wonderfully sublime 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is presented for "Houseboat" and its quite nice. The VistaVision color is really, really nice. Color saturation is bold and deep, and really makes the images pop right off the screen. Fleshtones also look pretty good. Detail is also pretty strong, while everything on the whole looks pretty sharp, even if it can seem a bit muted. There are flaws though. Noise and edge halos are featured throughout, but aren't too distracting. Also not that distracting are the blemishes, dirt pieces and cratches. In all, it looks better than one might anticipate and is certainly very watchable. Enjoy it.
The English mono certainly holds up. The opening harmonica tune sounds nice (as well as the other music), while little sounds like doors opening and slamming, footsteps, a thunderstorm and the putting down of suitcases certainly do sound natural. Dialogue is very crisp, clear and easy to hear. Like most of Paramount's mono tracks, this one can't be beat. It holds up with the material, sounds right and on par with the classic style of the film and is not manipulated to feel a bit spruced up. It might be all mashed together, but everything can be heard the way it should, so enjoy this as well. Also included are English subtitles, English closed captions and a French mono track.
Sadly, not much. The Theatrical Trailer and Teaser Trailer are presented in anamorphic widescreen (woohoo!) and there is also a decent Photo Gallery made up of publicity photos. At least the trailers are pretty cute.
Another Paramount classic, "Houseboat" is simply divine and is yet another film that holds up very well after such a long period of time. It's still amusing, it's still charming and it's hard not to fall under its entertaining spell and be seduced by that classic magic and talent it all has. With a nice presentation but run of the mill extras (unfortuantely) on this DVD, the film is worth a rental, but if you're a big fan of Grant and Loren's antics and want it on DVD, then it is a must own.