Hollywood loves kids. They love kids so much they pack as many of them into a film as they can! In 1950 Hollywood gave us our first overburdened family in Cheaper By the Dozen. But if we know anything about movies, there’s always room to go bigger and better. In 1968 the idea of a blended family was presented, with a whopping 18 children, in Yours, Mine and Ours. A result of the rise in the American divorce rate, as well as the popularity of television sitcoms, Yours, Mine and Ours is a fun, if dated, look at the changing portrait of the American family.
Helen North and Frank Beardsley (Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda) are recently widowed singles who fall in love with each other and decide to marry. Trouble brews with their children; Helen has a brood of eight while Frank has ten. How to manage with twenty people living under one roof?
If you’ve read previous reviews you’re aware the late-’60s couldn’t have been a more contentious time in America and in Hollywood. So it’s understandable why something like Yours, Mine and Ours appealed to Hollywood producers, as well as became a box-office success (a fact that angered Ball who lost a lot in taxes). The North-Beardsley clan valiantly attempts to tap into the ever-widening gulf between American teens and their parents, while simultaneously commenting on the uptick in blended families.
Nearly all 1960s studio films suffer from an aesthetic and narrative kinship, which explains why Yours, Mine and Ours plays like an extended sitcom episode (Lucille Ball’s presence aside). Helen is this film’s “lovely lady” and Frank (not quite “a man named Brady”) meet cute and their relationship routinely moves from marriage to moving day, various ups and downs, and adoption.
Formulaic set-up aside, Yours, Mine and Ours is one of the better 1960s movies that doesn’t feel as if it’s blindly imitating television. If anything, television was imitating it. Around the time of filming, and released a year later, a television producer known as Sherwood Schwartz came up with a similar premise, turning it into the American TV icon that is The Brady Bunch. (Helen, Frank and Helen’s daughter chopped into boxes during a telephone conversation draw comparisons to the Brady Bunch’s opening credits.) Any movie or sitcom about new families raises questions about parental replacement, navigating a new last name (you don’t see that enough in divorced couple movies), and coming to accept stepparents. How much time passes is unknown, though it’s safe to say at least nine months by the end scene.
Lucille Ball was pushing 60 when she took on the role of Helen North-Beardsley, making her pregnancy at the end an act of immaculate conception, I’m assuming. It’s cruel to say, but there’s a bit too much humor in her declaration that she’s held together “by pins and glue.” The pregnant patients subplot in The Thrill of It All (1963) comes off as easier to believe. With her hair a coppery, if a less fiery red, and a gravelly voice implying an obsession with Marlboro Reds, Ball looks ill at ease playing the straight man and was far from the television Queen she once was. Frank’s children spiking Helen’s drink with Scotch, gin and vodka, allows her to go into the manic I Love Lucy mode audiences know. Helen’s argument with a nun about her son’s request to be called Philip Beardsley has Ball yelling “Beardsley, Beardsley, Beardsley” in a way that can only draw comparisons to one of Lucy Ricardo’s many hare-brained schemes.
Fonda and Ball worked together previously on 1942’s The Big Street, and if Jane Fonda is to be believed their heat was indulged off-screen. Their romance is cute, but like many 1960s comedies there’s an overemphasis on innuendos that leaves the audience skeeved out. It’s like hearing one’s parents joke about sex; we know it’s happening, but no one wants to hear about it. Fonda and Ball are so ingrained in the chaste world of the studio system that their asides about their sex life, though tame, slash like a knife through one’s brain. The humor is best derived from outside perspective, those hearing about how many kids the other has. Frank’s date with a flower-child named Madeline (Louise Troy) involves her amazingly witty reactions to hearing about his ten kids. Uncomfortably sandwiched between Frank and Helen, who love each other way more than Madeline is interested in Frank, she feels “nervous sitting next” to Frank for fear she’ll wind up pregnant. “I’m glad I’m careful,” she says before disappearing.
With the studio era increasingly at odds with the zeitgeist, they tapped into what they thought was the zeitgeist. You know what happens when you assume, right? You get Superdad (1973). Similar to the sexual innuendo, the children’s problems are still in line with mom and dad and apple pie with a hint of 1960s ephemerality. None of them run off to join the Hare Krishna’s or discuss voting for Hubert Humphrey. Eldest son Mike (baby-faced Tim Matheson) doesn’t get along with Helen, while Helen’s daughter dates a “sex maniac” whose idea of fun is attending “freak-outs.” Relating to the kids is next to impossible because, like many of this decade’s films it’s hard taking their lines with a straight face. They’re like small children desperate to look mature, so they wear lipstick. It’s cute but there’s no serious fear they’ll turn out bad.
Yours, Mine and Ours hearkens back to another famous extended family, the Von Trapps of The Sound of Music (1965) fame. Each movie lovingly deals with family, but Yours, Mine and Ours actually attempts to dissect the minutiae of blending two families together. Your ability to relate will vary, but it’s hard avoiding the big hug you wish to receive from Ball and Fonda. Olive Film’s new Blu-ray release presents the best version of this family feature you’ll want to watch.
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