Widowed nurse Helen North (Lucille Ball) has eight children. When she falls for and marries career Navy officer Frank Beardsley (Henry Fonda), a widow with ten kids of his own, the 20 of them must deal with the challenges of forming a huge, unconventional family – From finding a house big enough for all of them, frying 36 eggs for breakfast, learning to make 18 school lunches, and coping with a son going off to war and an unexpected new addition to the family.
There are some delightful moments of pure comedy including a scene where Lucille Ball, anxious as a teenager to make a good impression on her first date with Henry Fonda, finds one false eyelash dropping straight into the Irish coffee and her slip descending to her ankles while she’s in mid-sentence.
When Frank takes Helen home to dinner to introduce her to his kids, the sweet young things mix her a potent brew containing gin, whisky, and vodka and then snicker helplessly when she dumps potato salad in a tiny tot’s lap and makes rude noises at the dinner table.
At the nuptials themselves, the respective broods stare across the aisle in mutual hostility and afterwards hurl rice at each other instead of at the married couple.
And when they each suggest legally adopting the other’s family, the two parents are met with the cruellest reproofs and are told they’re burying the memories of their previous partners with indecent haste . . .
Arguably the best family movie of the 60’s, the film was based on the true-life story of Helen and Frank Beardsley as described in Helen’s book, Who Gets The Drumstick?
Location shooting took place in and around San Francisco, including scenes aboard the USS Enterprise at sea and at the land-locked Almeda Naval Air Station across the bay, and at many of the city’s favourite tourist spots – Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiradelli Square and Chinatown.
Tim Matheson and Jennifer Leak who played the eldest children married the year the film was released.
Helen North Beardsley
Morgan Brittany (as Suzanne Cupito)
Sister Mary Alice