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Since "Life with Father" was written, the father-figure has become one of the commonest targets in American humor. Frank Gilbreth, the head of the household in "Cheaper by the Dozen" is a typical autocrat--an efficiency expert who started married life with a determination to have twelve children and forthwith realized this goal. Like all his predecessors in the history of household autocracy, Gilbreth's strongest quality is his refusal to be cowed by the social practices of his neighbors. The movie's funniest scenes center around his demands that the women in the family wear bathing suits that cover their knees and his insistence that the chaperone his eldest daughter at her first prom. Unlike the ordinary father-figure, Gilbreth is an efficiency engineer by profession. His faith in the part that time-study plays in progress leads him to bizarre domestic experiments, such as a photographic study of his twelve children having their tonsils taken out on the dining room table.
For Clifton Webb, Gilbreth is by means as appropriate a part as Belvedere was. Gilbreth, by nature, has certain "lovable" qualities--devotion to his family, generosity--that require of the actor as much folksy as comic skill. More than that, the comedy in Webb's previous assignments was in the person of Belvedere. But "Cheaper by the Dozen" is much more of a situational comedy, where the large family and the antiquated automobile set up the gags. Webb on the whole has far less chance to display his skill as a comedian.
Myrna Loy as the mother and Jeanne Crain as the eldest daughter are in their element. Long the queen of the understanding wives, Miss Loy is superb as the brake on Gilbreth's genius. Miss Crain, of course, has stars in her eyes; she is an ideal selection for the heroine of the high school prom.
The plot, however, is trite; it would be almost impossible to have original sequences in such a shopworn framework. You know perfectly well what will happen when the family buys a dog that Gilbreth disapproves of, and what the cute little remarks are going to be when mother has her twelfth baby. You can easily sense each time the "cheaper by the dozen" gag is coming up. Only Gilbreth's time studies redeem the movie from being completely hackneyed, and they aren't enough to make it really amusing. "Cheaper by the Dozen" is just a quantitative variation on the "Life with Father" theme.
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