Believe it or not, 1941’s “Penny Serenade” was not the only movie Cary Grant starred in in which he plays a husband overcome with the care of an orphan or two. But while in “Penny Serenade” he played a new husband averse to the idea of having children, in 1952’s “Room for One More,” he plays a long-married man affectionately called “Poppy” already with three kids of his own (played by George Winslow, Gay Gordon, and Malcolm Cassell) when his wife Anna (Betsy Drake) decides that they ought to adopt a child in need- and then another one.
“Room for One More” also sets itself apart from “Penny Serenade” by leaning in to the comedic side of the situation, whereas the former film was a straight drama. Grant gets to put his well-honed comedic chops to use, from the physical comedy he employs while working in the kitchen, apron tied around his waist, to his sarcastic line delivery as he reacts to everything going on around him. But there are plenty of heartfelt moments too as he learns to care deeply for the foster children his wife brought home, revealing that the troubled kids, with the love and care of a good family, aren’t so bad after all. First there’s a depressed 13-year-old Jane (Iris Mann), and later Jimmy-John (Clifford Tatum Jr.), a troublemaker who doesn’t get along well with the other children initially, and who is physically disabled, needing leg braces to walk. Grant works well with them as well as the other kids in the cast (he was responsible for Winslow’s casting, having heard the young boy and his unique voice on Art Linkletter’s radio program “People Are Funny”), and in real life, he was married to Drake at the time, and their off-screen chemistry shines through in their scenes together (they stayed married until 1962). The maudlin messaging may sound like a bit much, but the end result is genuinely delightful and moving, and director Norman Taurog does a good job balancing both the humorous and dramatic elements drawn from Anna Perrott Rose’s autobiographical book of the same name.
“Room for One More” is another movie that isn’t exclusively a Christmas story, but the holiday plays an important role in some scenes, particularly toward the end of the film. The instrumentals to the song “Up on the Housetop” play over the opening credits, and later, during their Christmas gathering, Grant and the children sing “Good King Wenceslas.” One of the best scenes in the movie is set during a New Year’s Eve dance. After the mother of Jane’s date Ben forbids him from taking her because of the girl’s past, Poppy goes to their home and convinces the family to let the boy go in an effort to avoid breaking Jane’s heart, but Jane ultimately decides to dance with her chosen father instead of Ben. It’s a beautiful scene that shows just how far the pair, who were initially averse to each other, have come in their relationship. And the film as a whole reveals another side to Grant’s screen persona, one that embraces domesticity and fatherhood as opposed to the debonair leading man he’s typically known as.
“Room for One More” is streaming on HBO Max and is available to rent on most digital platforms. Runtime: 98 minutes.