“Pro-Life” or “Anti-abortion,” however you want to term it, Cheaper by the Dozen, the original 1950 version based on the book of the same name, has an encounter with Planned Parenthood. It took me by surprise since I didn’t expect an issue like birth control to pop up in such an old movie with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy (Myrna is one of my favorites, by the way). I decided to originally watch the film after some quaint reviews on Netflix and that it was based on a true story of an efficiency expert who decided to have 12 kids. I figured it might be similar to Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation with Jimmy Stewart.
In the scene in question, Myrna Loy’s character Lillian Gilbreth is approached at her home for her expertise as a psychologist to speak at a local chapter of Planned Parenthood. The Planned Parenthood lady is shown as stuffy and uptight and there are hints that she is basically a child-hater of sorts. Lillian decides to show her up after receiving her invite by calling in her husband who tromps in with sarcastic politeness and then proceeds to whistle for his twelve children to appear within seconds. This of course stuns the Planned Parenthood lady and thus we are amused. The Planned Parenthood lady comes off looking like a bitter single woman and you can chalk one up the happiness of family excess.
I wonder how many women these days would be amused by the prospect of not having access to birth control, birthing 12 children and having the house run by their dominant husband, Mr. Efficiency Expert? The movie is very lighthearted, sometimes funny, and is what we might expect of the time period, but ohhhhh how times have changed. I will say the movie does reflect a pro-woman stance on education and accomplishment. Mr Gilbreth didn’t want any female dummies in his squad and they were all expected to go to college. However, how does a woman have a career if they are constantly pregnant? The end of the film indicates that Mrs. Gilbreth goes on to lecture in place of her husband on efficiency and is successful enough to become woman of the year–but then her childbearing years are over for an obvious reason (which I won’t give away if you haven’t seen the film).
I would be curious to see women’s reactions watching this film again as most Christian women these days use birth control to usurp God’s domain–the womb. “He” doesn’t decide when they get pregnant, they do. My wife didn’t care much for the Steve Martin remake and I’m not going to be able to get her to sit still to watch this one. She likes children but not THAT many children.
If you don’t think there are people who are against birth control any more, since this is a movie from 1950, think again. I knew the fringe for a short period in my youth in the nineties (pre-atheist days) when I was involved in the Pro-life movement and they had a no tolerance stance on birth control. They’re still around, though. Ironically enough, mainstream pro-life women still use birth control even as it can be considered an abortifacient.
I guess I can’t blame people for being sentimental about such movies (it’s a kind of fantasy we love), but if someone came to your door today and suggested the opposite–that you join a group against birth control–you’d probably close the door in their face and think them a nut. Cheaper by the Dozen is a decent film from the past, but it’s one you watch with amusement about how times and attitudes have changed. Looking at the NetFlix members’ reviews I wonder how many of them realize it.
SIDENOTE: Inevitably, someone will comment that Planned Parenthood did this or that in the past (“Margaret Sanger was a Nazi!”). Yes, there are skeletons in the closet, not denying that. The organization is a far cry from the Sanger days and so family planning has had its moments of ignorance too. Debate it all you want, but birth control is here to stay and most women love it.
SIDENOTE 2: Clifton Webb’s Frank Gilbreth character gets on my nerves at times. This is supposed to be a true story and we’re to assume that Lillian is using feminine wiles to steer her loud husband so he isn’t as dominant as he thinks. She is the ideal wife (submissively quiet but also clever enough to get her way). Do we really think that a woman pregnant 12 times never snapped back at her constantly barking husband and wanted to murder him in his sleep? Thankfully the daughters start to rebel in what is the repetition we constantly see with kids who turn into parents and then are dismayed by their own kids’ actions (“Kids these days!). Remember that showing a pretty knee leads to sex.