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5th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival Recap, Days 1 and 2: Cheaper by the Dozen and Bachelor Mother

April 15, 2014

Well, another TCM Classic Film Festival has come and gone. 2014 marked the festival's 5th anniversary, and though I've attended all 5 years, by the time Sunday evening rolls around, the famous Dr. Seuss quote always begins to echo in my head: "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."


That may sound a bit dramatic, but it's true. Festival attendees like myself express sadness at the festival's end, but the joy and memories made more than make up for it. This year's theme, Family in the Movies, was right on, because the network, festival, and fans all feel like a real family, complete with love, admiration, respect, and of course, some squabbles (quarrels over remakes can rival some domestic disputes, I'm sure). Amidst the craziness that is Hollywood, it seems as though you can find long lost friends in the warm and welcoming people you meet in theaters, on line, or even while crossing the street.


The festival lasts four days, but in the end it always feels like time has gone by so fast and so slow at the same time - days and nights blur together, and it's hard to gauge whether you've been running around Hollywood and sitting in theaters for one really long day or...20.


After comparing notes on the movies I was able to see this time around with my game plan going in, I’m pleased to call this year’s festival a personal success. My final film tally comes to 10, and the four screenings I wanted to see most – The Innocents, How Green was My Valley (with Maureen O’Hara), The Women, and The Lodger – I luckily got in to. Naturally, a few of my selections changed once I hit the ground running and some movies sold out (some even twice!), but all in all, it was a fantastic, fun, and extremely caffeinated weekend.

Insurance sponsor Genworth set this up in the lobby of the TCL Chinese Theatres (Picture by Kim Luperi)

The first two days of the festival, Thursday and Friday, are always light for me, because I'm at work for a good part of both. On opening night, I caught two evening movies: Cheaper by the Dozen and Bachelor Mother. After arriving too late for my first choice, 5th Avenue Girl, I made it in to Cheaper by the Dozen, a film I'd never seen before (and I'm a big Myrna Loy fan). TCM's Tom Brown delivered the introduction, telling the audience that he had a special connection to the movie: years ago, he actually played Frank Gilbreth Jr. in his school's stage version of the story.


Though produced in 1950, Cheaper by the Dozen was set in the 1920s, the same era of Frank Gilbreth Jr’s memoir about growing up with his family of 14 under the parentage of a pioneer of motion study father, Frank (played by Clifton Webb, who was “born to play the role,” Brown said) and a psychologist/industrial engineer mother, Lillian (Myrna Loy, who was way too old to give birth believably). A straight comedy until the end, Cheaper by the Dozen nevertheless surprised me in the portrayal of the women in the family. Conservative Frank and his eldest daughter Ann (Jeanne Crain) butt heads over subjects such as wearing stockings to the beach, makeup, and high heels, and in one comical scene, Ann, in protest, cuts her hair into a bob. It's not for vanity, though; she's making a statement, whole-heartedly declaring to her sister that none of the daughters will be “emancipated until I pave the way!”

In the Gilbreth household, heels are a sign of rebellion.

Another hilarious sequence has a woman asking Lillian if she’d like to join the town’s birth control league. After calling Frank downstairs, the couple’s response to the woman’s inquiry – rounding up their dozen kids in record time – is classic. Clearly, Lillian might not be the best choice to head up this type of group. However, the mere mention of birth control in a film from 1950 (with 1920s mentality) threw me; I don’t recall hearing the word, much less the idea, mentioned in a movie from that time. Both Ann and Lillian's actions, particularly the latter's decision to return to work at the end, echo the sacrifices women had been making and the struggles they were putting up with – the vote, birth control, women’s liberation - all of which continues to this day.


Next up on my list was 1939's Bachelor Mother. Since 5th Avenue Girl sold out quickly, I thought I’d have to give up on my Ginger Rogers fix and head for The Heiress but then something happened: more people starting filing in the latter, and I'm glad they did. Bachelor Mother centers around a shopgirl, Polly (Ginger Rogers), mistaken as the mother of a foundling the day she is fired. Her bizarre 'un-maternal' behavior prompts her boss, David (David Niven), to reinstate her position in an attempt to keep mother and son together. Sounds a bit crazy, no?

Greg Proops gave a hilarious introduction to Bachelor Mother.

Comedian Greg Proops took the stage to introduce the film and pointed out the story's similarities to today's world: girl works behind a counter, girl gets fired, girls gets herself into a situation with a ba-bay (as he amusingly pronounced it), and girl doesn’t rely on anyone for assistance. Oh wait, that last part doesn't sound familiar to him. Proops, a fan of Rogers as a comedienne, applauded her character's strength and humor: even after everything that happens to her (being thrown into single motherhood accidently, for one), she remains sturdy, a force to be reckoned with, all while keeping it light and humorous. Meanwhile, clueless/outrageous males round out the comedy: Department store owner J.B. Merlin (Charles Coburn) looks as if he walked out of Monopoly, monocle and all (the word Proops used for Coburn’s character was “blow hard,” a term he thinks should be used more often today), and debonair Niven, portraying Coburn's son David, can pull off spats and a top hat well but put simply, he's a “nitwit." A well-meaning and cute one, though.


Bachelor Mother had me laughing and marveling at the subject matter more than I expected. The idea of single motherhood 75 years ago seems incredibly risky for its time but was nicely dealt with. Though the movie gets away with it by Polly not actually being the baby’s mother, the way others react, specifically David and his father, is revealing: yes, the baby was a deal breaker at first, but both men comically come to accept it (his father even embraces it: "I don't care who the father is, I'm the grandfather!") – even after Polly tells them the baby isn’t hers numerous times. Though they don't look like they would, Rogers and Nivens had great chemistry, particularly in sequences involving the baby. Rogers, in particular, cracked me up with just her eyes in many scenes - this film called for some spectacular reaction shots, and she hit them all. 

David dispenses some questionable motherly advice...from a book.

Friday was the evening I was waiting for, because one of my favorite movies, The Innocents, was playing at 9pm, which luckily gave me enough time to arrive early to make sure I made it in (though the film screened against Blazing Saddles, The Music Man, and The Best Years of Our Lives, so I had nothing to worry about). I plan on writing about The Innocents more in depth soon, but I’ll say this now: Yes, I did get to see it, but only partly (probably ¾). And yes, it was worth it, but the theater experience spoiled me, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch it on a screen smaller than 30 feet ever again. Seriously.

More about this later...

And so rounded out the first two days of the 5th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival for me. Stay tuned for a recap of some selections from the 2nd half of the festival, including City LightsHow Green Was My Valley, and The Lodger, within the next day or so.


Note: Both films discussed above can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home: Cheaper by the Dozen is available for purchase from, and Warner Archive has released Bachelor Mother

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I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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