Screengrab: When Mr Leech met Ms Scicilone



Richard Lutz dredges the tv movie schedules for the film you just gotta see


Well, sport fans, there’s some real ugly junk on the box this week when it comes to movies- though there is a peep of light with a Muppets’ effort called Kermit: The Swamp Years (Thurs, Sky Family, 2.50AM).

Failing that, there’s a quirky gem with a juicy tawdry history among the dreck. It’s Houseboat (Wednesday, TCM, 19.30) and it’s a vehicle so lightweight, so gormless, that it needs a ton of ox manure for ballast to keep it from floating away.

But forget what you see on the screen in this 1958 romcom starring a certain 53 year old Archibald Leech (Cary Grant) and a certain 22 year old Sophia Scicilone (Sophia Loren)

The plot bubbles around Grant’s diplomat falling for an Italian honcho’s beautiful daughter. All breezy relief with nice Mad Men clothes.

But behind the cameras, boy, it was a nightmare. Grant and Ms Va-va-Voom were real life tempestuous lovers in their previous film together, The Pride and The Passion (yeah, the one Sinatra walked out of..). And aging duffer Grant was still in love with Loren.

Leech chases La Soph

He chased her around the Houseboat set moon-eyed as she swatted him away like some male menopause fruitfly and basically told him to take a long hike with his walking frame.

The puppy love spat gave director Melville Shavelson ulcers. Tech crews had to just about build a metal cage around La Va Va Voom to protect her from old man Grant.

On release, The Washington Post called Houseboat ‘comfortably predictable’ which is critic-speak for boring and crap.

The script itself had a tacky footnote too. It originally was written by Grant’s then wife Betsy Drake. He also wanted her to co star in it. Well, along comes La Loren and he takes Betsy off  scriptwriting  duties and then chucks her out of the cast and replaces her with voluptuous Soph.

Jeez, what a creep!!

Of course, Grant was on the Road to Hell anyway. Drake had introduced him to LSD and he waltzed on the Psychedelic Highway for most of the sixties like a blitzed out Haight Ashbury hippie.

La Loren, meanwhile, went on to drive an obsessed Peter Sellers cur-raa-zzee with lust. She batted him away too and continued her exciting career appearing in forgotten movies playing Sophia Loren and slapping lawsuits on all and sundry- some concerning nude cheesecake snaps from her early days.

Shavelson, by the way, got an Oscar nomination for totally re-hashing Drake’s discarded oeuvre.

But he’ll be best known, besides his helmsmanship of the adrift Houseboat, as the author of his Hollywood DIY book: ‘How To Make a Jewish Movie.’

Must get a copy as I watch lovelorn rickety Mr Leech chase Ms Scicolone around the gunnels one more time.