Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)


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Rating: Not Rated

Clifton Webb as Frank Bunker Gilbreth
Jeanne Crain as Ann Gilbreth
Myrna Loy as Mrs. Lillian Gilbreth
Betty Lynn as Libby Lancaster
Edgar Buchanan as Dr. Burton
Barbara Bates as Ernestine Gilbreth
Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Mebane
Sara Allgood as Mrs. Monahan

Special Features:

Award Footage

Other Info:
Full Frame (1.33:1)
Stereo Sound
Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 86 Minutes

This is the original 1950 version of Cheaper by the Dozen. It is based on the book by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey about their real life childhood family.

In the early 1900’s, Frank Bunker Gilbreth is an industrial engineer. Efficiency is his specialty. He gets to practice this extensively at home with his wife and 12 children. A lovable though demanding taskmaster, Gilbreth raises his children under close supervision and strict guidelines. When the family moves, they must settle into a new house, a new school, and a new routine. They must also face a house-wide breakout of the whooping cough and tonsillectomies.

Despite loving her father, oldest daughter Ann finally chafes at his strict parenting. But will she cause more family strife by rebelling or blaze the trail for the rest of the family to have freedom?

Cheaper by the Dozen is not rated, but it is safe to say it deserves a G rating.

The Movie:
Just after the big screen release of Steve Martin’s Cheaper by the Dozen, the original 1950’s version belatedly appears on DVD. Unfortunately, the film has not aged well. It is a snapshot of a different time with a different set of values, but I found it a little hard to watch nearly 55 years after its original release. Frank Gilbreth, though a lovable old fellow, is shown lining his children up for military-like inspection, criticizing a young daughter for being too fat, and generally using his children like an experiment in efficiency (even filming their tonsillectomies so he can tell the doctors how to do their job better). Further dating the film are the parent’s two twin beds in their bedroom. For a couple with twelve children, I guess they hop across a lot more than they’d like to let on.

Stealing the show is Clifton Webb as Frank Bunker Gilbreth. He dominates the whole movie and manages to push Myrna Loy as Mrs. Lillian Gilbreth into the background scenery. Though Gilbreth is shown being both an authoritarian and a playful father, he’s also shown as being rather arrogant and a know-it-all. It’s hard to fall completely in love with the fellow.

The movie is also billed as wonderful high comedy, but the ending takes a rather tragic, depressing turn that you might not see coming. Though faithful to the true story of what happened, I still found it a downer that affected my overall enjoyment of the film. That being said, there are some fun moments in the movie, too. I had to laugh when, after the father scares a young son with the car horn, the boy returns the favor to his father. The look on Webb’s face is priceless, but it does look like he’s ready to sock it to the boy. Another funny moment comes when a woman asks Mrs. Gilbreth to come speak at a symposium on birth control. Ah, the irony.

I know there are many fans of this movie who consider it to be a classic, but it honestly didn’t do anything for me.

The Extras:
There’s only one extra to speak of on this DVD. It’s a very brief feature showing the writers of the story (two of the real Gilbreth children) accepting an award on behalf of the cast and crew of Cheaper by the Dozen. Considering how old this movie is, it’s quite a thing to have any extra footage at all. However, I think a documentary on the real Gilbreth family and where the children are today would have made a really interesting DVD extra. No such luck, though.

The Bottom Line:
This movie is for anyone curious about the original Cheaper by the Dozen and old film lovers. Modern mainstream audiences may not be terribly impressed by it.