Making the Grades
A lot of unexpected things are happening in the life of Tom Winters (Cary Grant). The untimely death of his estranged wife brings the traveling government attorney back to the home of his spouse's parents who have taken over the care of his three children. Assuming responsibility for his little brood for the first time since his extended marital separation, the civil servant is stunned when they give him the cold shoulder.
Cramming the kids into his bachelor apartment in Washington D.C., he is again astonished that they find no charm in the nation's capital or its tourist attractions. Nor can he understand why his youngest son Robert (Charles Herbert) runs away, or why he returns with an Italian-speaking woman (Sophia Loren) and insists he prefers the company of the complete stranger.
Hoping to assuage the situation, the desperate dad offers the girl the job of housekeeper. Unbeknownst to him, Cinzia is also a runaway, having escaped the controlling eye of her celebrated orchestra-conductor father (Eduardo Ciannelli) who is touring the United States. Anxious to really experience America, the rebellious twenty-two-year-old accepts the employment opportunity, neglecting to mention her genteel upbringing hasn't equipped her with any of the necessary skills.
Next, Tom tries to rent a more family-friendly residence in the country. Contacting his former sister-in-law Carolyn (Martha Hyer) to help make the arrangements, he is unprepared when she confesses to having harbored a secret affection for him.
Before he can rebound from that revelation, his house plans are broadsided and he is forced to take the only accommodations available--a leaky, dilapidated houseboat moored along the riverbank.
Trying to make the best of these new circumstances, the usually poised gentleman is ruffled by the tasks of connecting with his angry and grieving offspring, teaching his domestic help how to cook, clean and speak English, repairing his barely floating abode, maintaining his city job, and deciding whether or not to embrace Carolyn's advances. On top of all that, there is the unexplainable Cinzia--whose own unhappy childhood makes her very adept at pointing out what he ought to do to mend his tattered family.
For parents, this 1959 Academy Award nominated movie will not present as many surprises as those the characters experience. The biggest concerns come from conversations alluding to sexual activity and innuendo, along with brief moments depicting the young boys' curiosity with a classical picture of some nudes, a pin-up poster and a female neighbor who forgets to close the curtains while changing her clothes (no nudity shown). Other issues include a mild profanity, a main character smoking a pipe, social drinking and drunkenness, as well as some disrespectful behavior by the upper crust towards those they consider lower class. (But nothing the hot-tempered Italian can't handle with a "Bing, Bang, Bong.")
As Cinzia prods Tom to talk to his children about death, comfort his daughter's night time fears, face his son's habit of stealing, and tolerate a budding musician's harmonica playing, the non-paternal man discovers the meaning of fatherhood.... and the film concludes with the buoyant ending the audience is sure to have predicted.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Houseboat.
Why do you think the children in this movie developed behavioral problems after coming through this traumatic event? What other side effects can stress have? What can be done to overcome these problems?
Do you feel the children respond predictably or unpredictably to their father’s romantic intentions? Why?
Tom tries to explain the circle of life to his grieving child to help him come to terms with the death of his mother. What council or comfort would you give to someone facing the loss of a loved one?