The Miracle Worker – Rediscovering ‘Sitting Pretty’ (US 1948 – 84 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - November 23, 2015
The Miracle Worker – Rediscovering ‘Sitting Pretty’ (US 1948 – 84 mins)

A wonderful domestic comedy that introduced the movie-going public to the eccentric Mr Belvedere, ‘Sitting Pretty’ was a huge success and gave the already established Clifton Webb a newfound popularity and a fresh audience, as the seemingly master-of-all-trades with his own inimitable style.

Juggling a busy life and three disorderly young children, suburban couple Harry and Tacey King (Robert Young and Maureen O’Hara) place an ad in the paper for a live-in babysitter. When the elderly self-styled genius Lynn Belvedere (Clifton Webb) replies and is reluctantly given the position, his unconventional ways soon win the family over, unaware to them that the child-hating Belvedere only took the job as research for his forthcoming book about suburban life.

Based on Gwen Davenport’s 1947 novel ‘Belvedere’, ‘Sitting Pretty’ may have a simple premise, but with its numerous colourful characters there is so much to enjoy. Charming and quiet-spoken Robert Young and the fun & feisty Maureen O’Hara make for likable leads, and even though it’s nearly half an hour before Belvedere turns up, this is clearly Clifton Webb’s show all the way, effortlessly stealing the scenes from his popular co-stars. It must have been evident early on that this was one of those occasions where the part perfectly suited the actor. Various support is given by Louise Allbritton as Tacey’s best friend Edna, Ed Begley as Harry’s crotchety boss, and Richard Haydn as a nosy neighbour, who’s never happier than when spreading gossip about Mrs King and Mr Belvedere having an affair.

Long-time 20th Century-Fox director Walter Lang went on to make the very popular family comedy ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ (’50), again with Webb, and later had his greatest success with the award-winning musical ‘The King and I’ (’56). The witty script was by the Austrian born playwright F. Hugh Herbert, who later gained minor notoriety when he wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation of his own play, ‘The Moon is Blue’, because it contained the word “virgin”.

Memorable moments here include the breakfast ‘tit-for-tat’ food fight between Belvedere and the King’s youngest child, and his impromptu dance-hall rumba with O’Hara’s surprised Mrs King. Webb was a long accomplished Broadway dancer in real life and it clearly showed in this delightful scene. For a movie that’s nearly 70 years old, it’s still genuinely funny, with many of Belvedere’s witty and sophisticated replies still hitting the funny bone.

A fast-moving and cosy delight, ‘Sitting Pretty’ has a real warmth to it, and thanks to the unique Clifton Webb, is a film that improves with each repeated viewing. In a time of CGI obsessed movie-makers, it’s nice to go back to basics and enjoy a straightforward yet hugely entertaining comedy.

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