In the 1960s, big Catholic families weren’t uncommon. Nor were big navy families. But a family of 22 was remarkable. A true story of a navy widower, Frank Beardsley, with 10 children and a navy widow, Helen North, with 8 children, who fall in love and end up with two more children inspired this 1968 film. A 2005 remake starring Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid took the basic premise but adapted it heavily to make it more relatable for a modern audience. We’re focusing on the original film, which stars the legendary Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda.
In terms of the DVD itself, it’s quite a bare-bones product. There are no special inserts or features. It includes the film itself — which is of adequate, if unremarkable visual and audio quality — and the original theatrical trailer. The trailers of the day, incidentally, feel painfully long by today’s standards. It basically summarizes the story rather than highlighting the funny pictures, biggest laughs and most climactic moments. Instead of embedding that to give you a feel for the film, we’ve included a clip from the beginning of the film.
It’s not a perfect film, but it ended up being a surprise hit at the box office. I think it’s because this classic movie is just full of heart. It’s not judgmental or preachy. The comedy is sometimes predictable but gets funnier than the best of Break.com every time you watch it. Helen and Frank meet several times in the course of navy life before he gets up the courage to ask her on a date. The trick? At this point neither Frank nor Helen know how many children the other has, though their mutual friend Larry has all the info and thinks they’re a perfect match.
San Francisco is a beautiful backdrop for this story and the juxtaposition of the conservative Catholic family values with the free love movement of the day provides for some of the funniest lines in the film.
The film plays a lot, too, with the generation gap. The neighborhood boy rides a motorcycle and has too-long hair; Helen’s girls restyle her wardrobe and add fake eyelashes (with hilarious results) for her date with Frank to help her woo him.
My favorite character though, is Phillip. He’s one of Helen’s younger children and seems to have the toughest time with his father’s death and new blended family. He acts out because the nun at school told him “only the good die young” and he doesn’t want to die. When Frank and Helen marry, he wants to be Phillip Beardsley but runs into trouble at school. His teacher, the epitome of a classic, stern Catholic nun says he must sign his legal name to his schoolwork. Helen arrives at school to pick him up and finds him writing “Philip North” on the chalkboard over and over. Helen tries diplomacy but is quickly brought to the same level of frustration that presumably got Philip in trouble. He weathers the storm though, by inventing the oatmeal sandwich to get breakfast on the go and relying on his new brother Mike to help him out.
This film is a gem and it’s definitely worth the price of admission. It’s been a favorite in my family for years and it’s great for viewers of all ages!
This guest post was written by Oriana West
Once a producer of independent films, Oriana knows how much work goes into making movies these days. She loves writing about popular and foreign films and giving them the credit they’re due.