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  • Warning: Spoilers
    It's always a pleasure to watch a Clifton Webb performance, although The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker is one of his two weakest films. He is believable as the arrogant, pompous proponent of various "freethinking" theories, including polygamy and the advisability of prime genetic stock to father many children. Unfortunately, the film only has that one plot point to revolve upon and once that's revealed the film sort of meanders aimlessly to its end.

    The beloved Charles Coburn is given little to do (surely a Hollywood sin?), and his usually enjoyable bluster act comes off as forced and unfunny. The rest of the supporting cast is forgettable.

    My favorite moment in the film comes early on when Webb's character is in his office and his secretary reports that a foreman has issued a reprimand to an employee because she wore cosmetics during working hours. Mr. Pennypacker, the freethinker, refuses to sign off on the reprimand and orders the foreman reprimanded instead.

    I was surprised to read in the other reviews of this film and also in reviews of other Clifton Webb films that some viewers don't see him as a believable family man. In other words, because Webb in real life was a homosexual, therefore they don't find him believable when he portrays a heterosexual husband and father. I don't agree. I don't see what his sexual preference in real life has to do with his performances as an actor. After all, an actor portrays a character, not himself, so what does it matter what his real sexual preference is? Clifton Webb is passionate and believable as Barbara Stanwyck's husband in Titanic and as the jealous husband with a much younger wife in Dark Corner. One can manifestly feel the undercurrent of his lust and possessiveness for Gene Tierney's character in Laura. He's sweet and tender to his wife in Mr. Scoutmaster. He's a hoot as the loving yet irritating father in Cheaper By the Dozen. Even in the dreadful and tacky Boy on a Dolphin, weighed down by the inept and wooden performances of his costars Alan Ladd and Sophia Loren, he projects a wonderful "I've tasted all the fleshpots"-type of sated playboy. I think Clifton Webb was a superb actor with unlimited potential. I'm only sorry the role in Laura only came along when he was past forty--I wish he'd made more films.
  • "The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker" is one of the very strangest Hollywood films I have ever seen and I certainly understand why it's one of Clifton Webb's least famous films. This is because the film is intended to be a comedy AND an endorsement of polygamy! Seriously--the film is very much pro-polygamy!! It really makes you wonder what the writer and executives were thinking when they came up with this one!! Perhaps massive head injuries, alcohol or psychedelics might be at the root of this one!!! Even today, most folks would be surprised at such a film.

    Clifton Webb plays the title character. He's a successful businessman and free thinker. And, when I say free thinker, this is an understatement! Not only is he pro-evolution in a time when this was NOT popular but it turns out he's a bigamist--something that is discovered during the course of the film. However, Webb is not the least bit apologetic and thinks he's justified to have multiple families since he takes care of their financial and emotional needs (a position that is quite acceptable with some religions). His views are not based on religion (he seems areligious) but due to his own unusual asocial views.

    At first, his family in Harrisburg is shocked. The ones who take it worst are his father as well as a daughter who is just about to marry a minister! As for the Harrisburg wife, she is MUCH more understanding than you'd expect, though she is not happy. She's happier when she learns later that the mother in Philadelphia has since died (though they were BOTH married to the same man at the same time). However, all told, there are 17 kids from both marriages!! And, in the end, they decide to make a giant family--much like Webb had in "Cheaper By the Dozen"--just a bit (is this a word? I think it should be if it isn't).

    Overall, the plot is just insane and the film is STILL a bit offensive and very unfunny today--so it makes you wonder how this flew in 1959!! Audiences must have gone ape! And, I assume, the film must have lost a fortune. A major misfire that simply couldn't work as a comedy. Interestingly, Edmond O'Brien made a film about bigamy ("The Bigamist") and it worked exceptionally well...and was NOT done for laughs. Despite good acting and lush sets, "The Incredible Mr. Pennypacker" is annoying, unfunny and a waste of talent.

    By the way, this is NOT meant as criticism at all, but I find it odd that Webb starred in this and "Cheaper By the Dozen". These two films were about men with apparently VERY strong heterosexual libidos, though Webb himself was gay and lived most of his life with his mother. You wonder how he might have been as a father--like the men in these films or perhaps like Mr. Belvedere? Who knows. All I know is that his adult life, outside of acting, sounded rather lonely.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In the 1950s, Clifton Webb starred in many films for Twentieth-Century Fox. In private life, Webb was (how can I put this tactfully?) a very effeminate bachelor with a serious mother fixation. For some reason, Fox kept trying to convince movie audiences that Clifton Webb was a family man, repeatedly casting him as a husband and father in movies like "Cheaper By the Dozen", "Titanic" and "Marching Along". This basic implausibility is strained beyond the breaking point in "The Remarkable Mr Pennypacker", in which Clifton Webb has two wives at the same go, and a total of seventeen children!

    "Pennypacker" was based on a Broadway play written by Liam O'Brien, and this film sticks close to the play. (On Broadway it starred Burgess Meredith, who would have been a better choice than Webb for this film.) O'Brien wanted us to accept a bigamist as a sympathetic character, so he stacks the deck by setting the action of this story in the 1890s, and then has Pennypacker espouse some "modern" ideas which were pretty radical at the time, but which we now accept easily. Early on in this film - set in turn-of-the-century Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - Mr Pennypacker (Webb) comes out in favour of votes for women, and he also endorses Darwin's theory of evolution. Pennypacker's father-in-law (Charles Coburn) and all the other respectable men of 19th-century Harrisburg are shocked by these radical notions, but of course a modern-day movie audience will find them perfectly reasonable. By the time we learn Pennypacker's big secret (he's a bigamist, and not ashamed of it), we're accustomed to seeing him as the sensible free-thinker, and we've been lured into perceiving Pennypacker's father-in-law and all his neighbours as a bunch of old fogeys. We're tricked into accepting Pennypacker's bigamy as a harmless alternative lifestyle. (By the way: although apparently endorsing bigamy in his play and then this film, author O'Brien was careful to make a public statement that his OWN parents were not bigamists.)

    Pennypacker works for his Harrisburg wife's father, in a job which enables Pennypacker to shuttle between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Nobody suspects that he has a house in each city, with a wife and kids in each house. Even his two wives (and his two sets of children) don't suspect each other's existence. The secret leaks out when Pennypacker's Philadelphia house is condemned by the city government, under the laws of eminent domain, to be torn down and replaced by a road. Pennypacker is "away on business" in Harrisburg, so his eldest Philadelphia son travels to his dad's home office in Harrisburg, planning to warn him that his whole houseful of Philadelphia offspring are about to be evicted. There's a clever moment when Webb (as Pennypacker) discovers his secret's been rumbled. Presenting himself to Coburn as a loving husband and father, Webb surrounds himself with all the children of his Harrisburg brood, counting them off one by one ... until he finds one child left over, leading Webb to remark: "Boy, you belong in Philadelphia." Once the secret's out, Liam O'Brien's script comes up with a clever (and plausible) explanation for why Pennypacker can't remember which one of his two wives he married first.

    SPOILER WARNING: I was disappointed that the play and this film both cheat with their premise. After establishing Pennypacker as a bigamist, the story then reverses itself by revealing that he's only a PAST-tense bigamist. Pennypacker's Philadelphia wife conveniently died several years before the movie begins. Also, we never see any of his Philadelphia children except for his eldest son. Now that Pennypacker is down to his last wife (in Harrisburg), and his Philadelphia brood are on the brink of eviction from their house, it's pretty obvious how this situation is going to be resolved...

    Character actress Doro Merande, whose annoying voice ruined the soundtracks of many Fox films from the 1930s onwards, is her usual annoying self in a brief role here. "The Remarkable Mr Pennypacker" isn't very remarkable, but it's a competent treatment of an unusual subject. I'll rate this movie 5 out of 10.
  • CLIFTON WEBB, given the chance to "act" in LAURA, THE RAZOR'S EDGE and other fine films, is the Clifton Webb the public wanted to see. He made his mark as Mr. Belvedere in a number of Belvedere films and audiences loved him.

    But Fox did him a disservice by forcing him to play the remarkable man in this film, an 1890s gentleman married to two wives who know nothing about the other's existence. The only remarkable thing is that this time it doesn't work at all, plodding along in an attempt to be fresh and funny while at the same time irritatingly forcing its premise on the viewer by making all the other protesting townspeople look like old fogies.

    The only supporting role character worth mentioning is CHARLES COBURN, again adding his own special brand of ornery charm to a role that doesn't deserve his presence. DOROTHY McGUIRE gives another one of her understated performances as one of the wives. Unfortunately, an annoying performance by JILL ST. JOHN (with high-pitched voice playing "young") gets the film off to a bad start. RON ELY is much better as her sweetheart.

    Henry Levin's direction is stilted and there's not enough comedy to really enjoy it as a Clifton Webb film. Saddling him with 17 children does not alter the fact that his prissy ways make the basic premise entirely unlikely. This sort of thing (without the bigamy) was done more effectively (and much more pleasantly) in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN.

    Technically, the film is fine. Sets and costumes look good in Technicolor and provide the charm missing in the script.
  • The most interesting thing about The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker I found is that if Clifton Webb had been a little less outspoken about his unorthodox beliefs he might have kept getting away with those two families he supported. As for those families he certainly didn't do things half way.

    This turn of the last century comedy was based on a Broadway play by Liam O'Brien that ran 221 performances in the 1953 season on Broadway and starred Burgess Meredith. It was considerably expanded for the film as the stage play takes place only in the Pennypacker Harrisburg home.

    In fact Pennypacker was a real character, a relative became Governor of Pennsylvania. This Pennypacker on a business trip to Philadelphia met and married another woman and fathered another family there.

    In fact Webb as our protagonist neatly compartmentalizes his life in Philadelphia and Harrisburg and arranges it so that he has to look after business affairs in both cities on alternating months. He raises his children to be like himself, freethinkers who question orthodoxy.

    Two things bring this happy arrangement which went on for almost a score of years to a halt. First eldest daughter Jill St. John of the Harrisburg family announces her engagement to minister Ron Ely and wants her father home for a quick wedding even if it's not the month to be in Harrisburg. Secondly Webb gets a summons for his advocacy of Darwinism, John Scopes could tell you they had such imbecilic laws back in the day. Richard Deacon has a nice bit as an officious sheriff who is a real bloodhound in tracking Webb from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.

    This story bears some resemblance to Webb's Cheaper By The Dozen, but it doesn't work near as well. Oddly enough Webb's character in that film Frank Gilbreath was also a real person. Still The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker holds up pretty good and could be shown to today's audiences.
  • I am a PA Pennypacker on my grandmothers side. I sincerely thought the movie was insulting to the real Pennypackers. There is a coincidence though. Although it "may not" be true of the bigamy involving my great father Pennypacker. It is true of my grandfather, Thomas Hogan. He had two wives that did not know about each other and then there was my grandmother. After bearing 9 children for my grandfather, he married my grandmother and proceeded to have just one more. My father. My father was the only legitimate Hogan of that group of children. In all I am told there were 27 children. My fathers brothers and sisters took his first name Thomas as their last names. It's a shame. Because in this day and age, it wouldn't have mattered. I loved them all. Sincerely, Nancy Hogan Wilson
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Copyright 1958 by 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. New York opening at the Paramount: 20 February 1959. U.S. release: March 1959. U.K. release: 4 January 1959 (sic). Australian release: 26 December 1958 (sic). 7,843 feet. 87 minutes.

    SYNOPSIS: This is the story of Horace Pennypacker, Jr, (Clifton Webb), a successful pork-packer of the 1890's who has two families — one in Philadelphia and another in Harrisburg. Together, the families total seventeen children. Since his business has kept him on a strict schedule of one month in one city, the next month in the other for some years, there has never been any confusion or contact between the two families. However, when his daughter, Kate (Jill St John), becomes engaged suddenly to a local minister, Wilbur Fielding (Ron Ely), he leaves his Philadelphia office unexpectedly for Harrisburg. His wife, Ma Pennypacker (Dorothy McGuire), and his Harrisburg family await him at the station, but instead of Pa, one of his Philadelphia sons arrives!

    NOTES: Running for a quite satisfactory 221 performances, the play opened on Broadway at the Coronet Theatre (sic) on 30 December 1953. It was produced by The Producers' Theatre and directed by Alan Schneider. Burgess Meredith, Martha Scott, Thomas Chalmers, Phyllis Love, Michael Wager and Una Merkel created the roles played, respectively, by Webb, McGuire, Coburn, St John, Ely and Stickney.

    VIEWER'S GUIDE: Okay for all.

    COMMENT: Well, I enjoyed the movie. I know everyone else hates it (even the industry's normally indulgent trade paper, "Variety", gave it a firm thumbs-down), but I thought it was funny. I fail to see how anyone who enjoyed Webb in "Cheaper By the Dozen" and William Powell in "Life With Father" would fail to respond to this variation. A lesser movie, true, but still mighty entertaining. Webb caps his dozen kids in the former picture with seventeen in this one. That doesn't make Pennypacker one and five-twelfths funnier, or even equal, but the players and the writers have a good go at it.

    Webb as usual is the master of the put-down, and he gets plenty of opportunities to be prissily caustic here. I thought he was most amusing. Even funnier though is Charles Coburn, having a grand old time as the irascible, outraged Pennypacker Senior. Great support is provided by the likes of Larry Gates, Richard Deacon, Doro Merande. Needless to say the CinemaScope screen is more than adequate to hold seventeen kids, even in sets dripping with Victorian bric-a-brac.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I found this one on Movie! network. It came out in 1959 when I was only 13 years old. Being from a small town it never hit my radar back then.

    Clifton Webb is Mr. Horace Pennypacker, a successful and wealthy business man, who starts a second business in a different city. Conveniently it keeps him in one city for a month, in the other city for a month. During all those years he managed to marry two women, and had two families. In one there were 6 children, the other there were 11. (So it makes us wonder how busy he really was with work!)

    That premise sounds pretty incredible now in the 21st century, with cell phones, digital cameras, and social media keeping tabs on everyone. It would be impossible, particularly for a high-profile business man. But for the 1950s, plausible.

    This goes on for years when as his older daughter of one family plans to get married, some members of each family begin to learn what is actually going on. This sets up the face-off with his wife and children.

    Dorothy McGuire was the wife Mrs. Emily 'Ma' Pennypacker. There was no need for a second wife role, as the other one had died a few years earlier and the oldest daughter was taking care that the younger children were growing up properly. It was a treat seeing a very young, almost 20 yr-old Jill St. John as the older daughter Kate Pennypacker. Also David Nelson as the son Henry Pennypacker.

    A nice blast from the past, very enjoyable.
  • Clifton Webb was always a difficult person to cast - in the 1940s and 1950s they just did not make movies where he would have fit perfectly: films where his character was openly gay. There are elements in his films (especially in LAURA and THE DARK CORNER and THE RAZOR'S EDGE) that suggest a high strung, waspy, near - homosexual type. So does his Mr. Belvedere. But throughout the 1950s his films concentrated on him as a father (frequently with large families) and a husband - even (in DREAMBOAT) a sexy movie idol of the silent period! This film is of those "family oriented" comedies that Webb made in the 1950s. As pointed out, it was based on a Broadway comedy, and it probably was purchased with Webb in mind. With his ability to personify intellectual types, he fits the free-thinking Horace Pennypacker.

    The Pennypacker family was actually quite distinguished in 19th Century Pennsylvania. One of them, General Galusha Pennypacker was a American Civil War hero, and Samuel Pennypacker was Governor of Pennsylvania from 1903 to 1907. As to an actual historical figure named Horace Pennypacker I cannot say (although one of the reviews on this thread suggest there may have been some reality about the situation regarding the bigamy.

    However, the play turned film was dull. Webb tried to be funny (even skating at one point), but the dialog really was not very good. The best moment in the film is between Richard Deacon (a member of an organization like The Society to Suppress Vice or something like that) and Charles Coburn. Deacon has found that Pennypacker has been passing around (presumably freely) a booklet of a mildly risqué nature concerning biology. It has flip pictures (you flip the pictures and they look like they move). Unfortunately Deacon has never had Horace Pennypacker pointed out to him. So when he sees Charles Coburn leaving his grandson's (Webb's) home, he concludes that Coburn is Horace Pennypacker. He confronts Coburn, and asks, "Are you Mr. Pennypacker?" "Yes", says the mildly annoyed Coburn. "Of Pennypacker & Co.?", asks Deacon. "Yes, yes...what do you want with me?!", shouts Coburn. "THIS!", says a triumphant Deacon - he flips the pages of the book in front of Coburn's face. "BaH!!", shouts Coburn, who knocks the book out of Deacon's hands. "You assaulted me...yes you did!!", says Deacon and he signals a waiting policeman who drags a protesting Coburn away (he later apparently straightens out the mistake, for he shows up to confront Webb before the end of the film).

    It was a mildly amusing moment in the film - and the best one, unfortunately. One has to admit that THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER was one of the weaker features that Clifton Webb made in Hollywood.
  • Totally not funny 'comedy' which is loud, strident and deeply offensive. Webb does his standard schtick but juiced up to at least a 12 out of 10. Bizarre is one of the kinder things that can be said about this sorry mess. The young lovers are duds, hordes of faceless youngsters scurry about and Coburn looks like he's dead. The way is lips swell and sag is alarming. Too much embalming fluid? Art direction and costume design gone crazy with every set an explosion of faux Victorian rainbow colors. Smug, superior, condescending Hollyweird, just like today's version. Prehistoric woke.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As a man having spent many months on a row without my wife for at least eight years when the Children were small and without once being unfaithful because I did not want anything to come between me and my wife, I can testify that such a thing is possible out of love. There goes the defense for Mr. Pennypacker of this Movie. Unfortunately the discussion does not go much further than this either, because there is a chickening out from such a discussion in typical fascist American way just like there was a chickening out from socialism in the Movie "Cabin in the Cotton" in the end. It's a pity because the subject is interesting. What is love and what is lust and do the two have anything to do with each other when it comes to the man or anything but not to do with each other when it comes to a woman? Well, you could go on and do a really good Movie, which, however would find no distribution in fascist America.