Plot: Diplomat Tom Winston (Cary Grant) returns to Washington, D.C. following the death of his estranged wife. His three children, David, Robert, and Elizabeth, have been staying with his wife’s sister, Caroline (Martha Hyer). They are hurt and resentful. He takes them to an outdoor orchestra concert, and Robert wanders off and meets Cinzia (Sophia Loren), the daughter of a visiting conductor. She has also wandered off, in search of adventure and companionship. When she brings Robert back, Tom sees that Robert likes her, and impulsively offers her a job as a housekeeper. She agrees, because traveling with her father has been boring and lonely.
David causes an accident that destroys their home, so the only place they can live is an old houseboat owned by Angelo, a handyman (Harry Guardino). They settle in there with Cinzia. It turns out she can neither cook nor do laundry, but the children adore her, and Tom warms to her too. With her help, he reaches out to his children, and they reach out to him.
Caroline tells Tom that her marriage is ending, and that she has always loved him. On the way to a country club dance, a tipsy male friend of Caroline’s swats Cinzia on her rear end and she tosses wine in his face. Caroline, annoyed at Tom for sticking up for Cinzia (and jealous), leaves for the dance without him. Tom invites Cinzia to the dance, and she accepts, despite her promise to go fishing with David. At the dance, Tom proposes to Caroline, but then, as he dances with Cinzia, he realizes that she is the one he loves, and that she loves him, too.
At first, the children are terribly upset and feel betrayed by both of them. Cinzia, unwilling to make them unhappy, runs back to her father, apologizing, “I’ve learned many things, including how hard it is to be a father.” Tom finds her there, but she refuses to go back with him. “Your children are your friends again, and that is the most important thing.” He tells her that being their friend is not the most important thing; being their father is. They get married. And the children, at the last minute, join in.
Discussion: This is a warm romantic comedy that is exceptionally perceptive and sensitive about the feelings of the children. It does a nice job of showing that David’s truculence and petty theft are due to his feelings of vulnerability and loss. In one scene, Tom at first tries to show David how to fish, then, when David says that he feels incompetent, Tom asks him for advice, and they are able to talk for the first time about his mother’s death. Tom shows David that nothing is ever really lost, and David is able to let Tom know that he fears losing Tom, too. After this talk, David feels safer, and confesses to Angelo that he took Angelo’s knife. (Angelo is very understanding.) Robert’s reaction to the loss of his mother is to withdraw, playing mournfully on his harmonica as his only means of expression. Elizabeth reacts by sleeping in her father’s room every night, and becomes very upset when she learns that will not be possible after he and Cinzia get married.
This is also a rare movie that deals honestly with the issue of children’s reaction to remarriage. Even though they love Cinzia, the children do not like sharing her with Tom, or sharing Tom with her. Children who have been in this situation will be grateful for the opportunity to see that they are not alone.
Questions for Kids:
· How do each of the children show that they are hurt and sad? How do each of them show when they are beginning to feel better?
· What can you tell about Caroline’s feelings when she gives the dress to Cinzia?
· Why does Cinzia tell Angelo the story about the necklace, and why does it make him leave without her?
· Was Cinzia wrong to leave for the dance when she had promised to go fishing with David?
Connections: This movie has two lovely songs, “Almost in Your Arms” (nominated for an Oscar) and “Bing Bang Boom.”
Activities: Just about every child plays some kind of call and response game like the “Yes Sir, You Sir” game Tom plays with his children. There is one that begins “Who Took the Cookies From the Cookie Jar?” Another one is called “Concentration,” and involves a series of claps accompanying the listing of items in selected categories. See if your children know any. If so, play one with them. If not, teach them one. Take them to an outdoor concert, like the one in the movie (the site of the concert in the movie is now the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.). Try playing the harmonica.