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Cheaper by the Dozen

One of the best scenes in Cheaper by the Dozen — a sweetly nostalgic 1950 comedy about the large, real-life Gilbreth family — involves a meeting between matriarch Lillian Gilbreth (the always-excellent Myrna Loy) and an earnest birth control advocate. Industrial engineer/mother of 12 Lillian patiently bides her time as the sincere visitor tries to convince Lillian, as a pillar of her Montclair, New Jersey, community, to step in and take a leadership role in the fight to liberate early 20th-century women from a baby-factory fate. The look on the advocate's face when Lily and her efficiency expert husband, Frank (a wonderfully blustery Clifton Webb), finally trot out their dozen offspring is priceless. It's one of many warmly amusing moments in this family classic; Cheaper by the Dozen may not have much of a plot, but the film's lack of storyline is more than compensated for by its charm and genuine affection for its subjects. Based on the memoir of the same name by Gilbreth progeny Ernestine and Frank Jr. (played by Barbara Bates and Norman Ollestad, respectively), the movie brings viewers into the Gilbreths' chaotic life. The episodic film highlights their many challenges (putting up with protective Dad as a prom chaperon), their joys (triumphing in the quest to add a dog to the always-growing household), and the unique aspects of being a family of 14. The dialogue may be dated — particularly eldest daughter Ann's (Jeanne Crain) gee-whiz conversations with her high school friends, which probably felt equally stale when the movie was released — but the film remains thoroughly engaging for all of its 86 minutes. Particularly enjoyable are the scenes between Loy and Webb; with their comfortable banter and easy affection, the two pros make it easy to see why Frank and Lily would want to have a football team's-worth of offspring together. Cheaper by the Dozen (which inspired the 2003 remake starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt) was followed two years later by a rather unremarkable sequel: While equally earnest, Belles on Their Toes (also based on a memoir by Ernestine and Frank Jr., with a script by Nora Ephron's parents, Henry and Phoebe), suffers an even more notable lack of plot than its predecessor. Fox presents the classic Cheaper in a full-screen transfer that is unfortunately showing its age in spots; the audio (English 2.0 stereo, English mono, and Spanish mono tracks are available, as are English and Spanish subtitles) is also occasionally a bit fuzzy. Extras include trailers and a vintage newsreel clip. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech



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