Audiences reared on the actor’s westerns and Hitchcock thrillers of the 1950s might have been somewhat taken aback to see the hard-hitting star turning up in a comedy. Setting aside Bell, Book and Candle (1958), he hadn’t been seen in anything that would resemble a Hollywood confection since a couple of lack-luster Post-War comedies – Magic Town (1947), Jackpot (1950) – when he was trying to regain the marquee status he had lost by going off to fight. Of course, having gone heavyweight with Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Two Rode Together (1961) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) he might have thought he was due some movie R’n’R.
Whether this contemporary equivalent of a beachside air bnb gone wrong was the ideal choice is a moot point. But he would certainly be playing against type. After all those tough guys, principled leaders and occasional dodgy characters, you wouldn’t have to go far to find people who might enjoy seeing him taken down a peg or two.
Harassed banker Roger (James Stewart) wants a quiet getaway with wife Peggy (Maureen O’Hara). But she has different ideas and he finds himself bunked down with a brood too many, his own family, in-laws and unexpected guests. Naturally some of these unexpected guests included rats, happily infesting this shambling house that could have been second-choice for Bates Motel, and there are plenty running gags about what doesn’t work or falls off and a shared telephone line.
If there was such a sub-genre as the mature coming-of-age picture, this would be it, Roger realizing he has a lot of catching up to do in the emotional relationship department.
Mostly, it’s one episode after another. The cook quits, his daughter and son-in-law have eschewed the traditional approach to child-rearing, son Danny wants to be left alone to play his computer games, sorry watch television, teenage daughter Katey (Lauri Peters) is turning into a wallflower, rather well-endowed neighbors catch his eye. To show willing, he’s the yachtsman who gets lost and bored bird-watcher.
But if audiences have learned one thing from a decade of Stewart-watching, it’s that he’s generally far from hapless and although it’s not his fault he’s trapped in the shower room with a naked woman (Marie Wilson), he’s not so much a do-gooder as a do-er, setting out to repair as much as possible the fractured relationships, not above a bit of bribery or cutting a few corners.
This is amiable enough stuff, a few good laughs, and much merriment to be had from the mere sight of the banker, lord of his domain at work cast adrift outside it, and having to adapt to different perspectives. There’s a harder edge than you might expect and some of the scenes of relationships under pressure don’t make easy viewing.
These days, everything wouldn’t work out so well, but in the 1960s I guess the tension was derived from working out exactly how it would work out. And waiting for teen heartthrob Fabian (North to Alaska, 1960) to sing. It seems a contradiction in terms that a pop star trying to prove himself as an actor has to fall back on singing. But them’s the breaks.
A mixture of situational comedy and sharp repartee, it never falls apart at the seams, enough in the tank to keep everything on an even keel.
James Stewart moves from coldness at finding himself in awkward situations to warmth as he finds ways to retrieve the best elements out of them. Stewart doesn’t have to adapt his screen persona that much, he was always a tad grouchy, and he’s packed a briefcase full of sarcastic remarks. But the scene where he reconnects with his son is very touching, Stewart at his heartfelt best.
Maureen O’Hara (The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, 1965) who also has a few icy veins sets those aside to mother all and sundry. Stewart and O’Hara prove an excellent screen partnership and they would be paired again in The Rare Breed (1966), where he was on more solid ground.
John Saxon (The Appaloosa, 1966) gets a chance to show what he can do besides being tough and John McGiver (My Six Loves, 1963) adds another interesting character to his portfolio of offbeat roles.
Veteran Henry Koster (Harvey, 1950) knows how to handle any amount of handfuls and when to pick out the comedy or head straight for the drama. Nunnally Johnson (The Dirty Dozen, 1967) based the screenplay on the bestseller by Edward Streeter, an expert in domestic upsets, previously penning Father of the Bride.