Making the Grades
How do you describe true love to an adolescent with surging hormones? Frank Beardsley (Henry Fonda) explains it this way: "It's not going to bed with a man that proves you love him. It's getting up with him in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful, everyday world with him that counts."
As mundane as that may sound, his wise words come from practical application. A father of ten children, Frank affirms his affection for his family when his wife passes away suddenly. Resigning from a job he thoroughly enjoys, the naval officer takes a less-appealing position that guarantees he can stay in his homeport. Although a little ill-prepared to manage his large crew all alone, this dad knows where he is needed most - whether or not his offspring appreciate his sacrifice.
Not far away, another parent encountering stormy seas is demonstrating her devotion. In the wake of her husband's death, Helen North (Lucille Ball) gathers her gaggle of eight kids and moves to San Francisco to start a new life. Juggling childcare, housework, and nursing shifts at the nearby navy base, the busy mom hardly even has time to feel lonely--until the day her over-burdened grocery cart collides with Frank's.
This chance meeting arouses feelings the widow and widower have been trying to forget--but there are at least eighteen obstacles preventing them from perusing a relationship. Despite the obvious problems sure to arise from trying to blend their two large families together, romance wins over reason.
Now, the newlyweds get up each morning at 4:00 A.M (or at least Helen does) to face such tedious tasks as cooking gallons of porridge, washing mountains of laundry, and making sure everyone has enough footwear. Frank employs his military training to keep the troops in line, for everything from preparing lunches assembly-line style, to making bedroom and bathroom assignments.
Unfortunately, not all of the family members are as quick to say "I do" as the parents. Consequentially, the usual challenges of sibling rivalries and rebellious teens are compounded by continued grieving for their lost parent, lack of acceptance of their stepparent, and questions about their new identity. If Frank and Helen ever hope to unify the Norths and Beardsleys into one clan, they will need to redefine what things are Yours, Mine and Ours.
This classic 1968 movie is based on the real life experiences of Helen North Beardsley, as recounted in her aptly titled book, Who Gets The Drumstick? The scriptwriter's adaptation includes a few mild swear words, a couple of boys brawling over a girls virtue, a child punished with a spanking, and some social drinking. There is also a scene where three youths spitefully spike an unsuspecting woman's cocktail, resulting in her behaving drunkenly.
For families, the greatest concern may be the frequent sexual innuendos sprinkled throughout, that reflect the swinging sixties era in which this film was produced. However, the commitment of Frank and Helen to their unusually large family stands in stark contrast to the prevalent attitudes of free love and promiscuity -- philosophies their older children are wrestling with. As these teens observe examples of service and selflessness, they grow to appreciate, respect and understand what really constitutes true love. Amidst the movies' physical comedy and gentle humor, most viewers will too.