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Today's movie fans used to media exploitation of any topical curiosity
may find "Five of a Kind" boring, but audiences of 1938 eagerly
devoured any current sensation such as the first recorded birth of
quintuplets who survived infancy. I recall a calendar on the wall at my
grandmother's house that featured the Dionne quintuplets posing after
they had reached adulthood. Much has been written about the inhuman
exhibition of the quintuplets as if they were freaks or circus animals.
Even their own mother had to stand in line and pay to see them,
although after lengthy court battles she eventually received custody of
them. The Ontarian government reached a settlement with the surviving
quintuplets in 1998. The 1994 TV movie, "Million Dollar Babies," is
recommended for those interested in learning more about the Dionne
quintuplets. Two of the quintuplets, Annette and Cecile, are still
"Five of a Kind" is one of four Hollywood movies released to capitalize on the Dionne quintuplets frenzy. The film is done in a light manner which helps when the oh-too-cute Dionne Quintuplets are before the camera performing as if they were spoiled and well adjusted to the media blitz.
The story centers on the rivalry between roving reporter Christine Nelson (Claire Trevor) and radio reporter Duke Lester (Cesar Romero). In typical Hollywood fashion the two reporters find themselves attracted to each other romantically but their competitiveness interferes with their libidos.
"Five of a Kind" is not unlike hundreds of such movies churned out in the 1930's, many of them starring the likes of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Yet the two leads, Claire Trevor and Cesar Romero, purport themselves well and prove to be a good match in comedic sparring. A bevy of character actors including Jane Darwell, Slim Summerville, and John Qualen add to the enjoyment with Jean Hersholt giving a believable performance as Dr. Dafoe, the man in charge of the Quintuplets and accused now by many as being the chief instigator of the exploitation of the girls.
Following another story, Christine Nelson, stumbles on to the Dionne quintuplets by accident. Unfortunately for her, rival reporter Duke Lester is also on the scene. This leads to a cat and mouse game between the two with Lester sabotaging the efforts of Nelson to become a famous on-the-spot radio personality, an idea that she actually steals from him fueling his determination to undermine her fledgling career. Toward the end, the film takes a remarkably satirical turn spotlighting the travesty of the entire quintuplet game when Lester concocts a sextuplet scam to topple Nelson from her popularity peak.
An added treat is the watching of a newsreel presented by Fox Movietone News, with legendary broadcaster Lowell Thomas narrating, by an audience coming to see the Dionne quintuplets at the movies. A later take of the Dionne quintuplets being viewed on the big screen via television makes it even more apparent that TV would have been with us much sooner had World War II not intervened.
The five little girls born before the age of futility drugs, were the pride of Canada. They created interest as lively as Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, or Lindsay Lohan would today albeit in a much more positive way. It wasn't too strange to picture children in this "circus" sideshow, as it would be today. QuintLand opened across the street from the home which was the birthplace of these little girls. The movie uses Wyatt, for the kids name and Luke as the name for the guardian/doctor who cared for the quints until the father was able to gain court approval to have them returned home. The film is just a vehicle to show off the girls watching them dance, sing, "play" the piano, and basically do anything they wish to do no matter how disruptive or destructive. They are typical very spoiled, little girls, don't expect to see any extraordinary talents. The story is completely pointless, you went to see the film to see the quints, and that was enough back then. Now this movie seems slow, and boring. Caesar Romero plays the charming weasel with his tricks to torment a newspaper radio/reporter who wins a contract to carry quints reports over the air for her New York newspaper, Caesar does all he can to gum up the works and embarrass Christine Nelson, ace reporter, even coming up with a fake "sextuplet" birth in the US, which Christine then reports much to her sorrow. But all is well the two become kissy-kissy at films end. There are as many misconceptions about the girls are there are details. They were taken from the parents after birth, returned 9 years later, but the parents while losing physical custody never lost their ability to see their offspring in the "sanitized theme park". The province of Ontario did not charge anyone to observer the girls, in order to offset the criticism of using the girls as human zoo animals, which they indeed were. Sorrow followed the return to the parents, the father would sexually abuse all the girls for many years and they wrote two books illustrating the bitterness they felt towards all concerned. Ontario did settle suits by the girls against the province, in the amount of $4 million. As of 7/2007 only two girls survive at age 73.
Rarely do I say this in one of my reviews, but I hope you DON'T see
"Five of a Kind". This is for two main reasons--it's a really bad film
but also because it helped exploit the Dionne Quints. These quintuplets
were exploited like crazy in the 30s and 40s and they grew up to be
emotional basketcases. It's really a shameful movie...as well as being
This film appears as if the studio had a B-movie they'd just finished and decided to VERY clumsily insert some staged footage of the quints into the movie--even though it really had nothing to do with the rest of the film. And, I think we can assume this was the case. Why else would they take a minor Claire Trevor/Cesar Romero film about two reporters and insert very lengthy and completely non- cinematic clips of these five exploited girls doing nothing of any importance other than babble incessantly in French-Canadian?! They stuck Jean Hersholt* into some of these clips and he pretended to be a their doctor...but the clips are like crappy home movies stuck into the other film with no thought of the end result. The end result is a mess...and a sad stain on Hollywood.
*Hersholt was such a nice person and did so much to help others that AMPAS (the Oscar folks) decided to name the humanitarian award after him. Sadly, here Hersholt is an accessory to destroying the lives of five kids...not one of the more wonderful things the otherwise nice guy did during his career. Kind of ironic, huh?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's no offense against the Dionne Quintuplets even though I didn't see
their appeal. They are on for only a few segments (filmed separately
from the rest of the film as the five little rugrats were living in
Canada and too young to be "Going Hollywood") and I truly felt sorry
for them for being exploited, the worse case of such an incident since
the otherwise artistically outstanding "Freaks". Put a child in front
of a camera, and they are going to take over. They don't know any
better. Their voices are grating from the very first scene where Jean
Hersholt (of the Oscar "Humanitarian" award) comes out to play with
them, and when he presents each of them with a puppy, the cuteness
button is pushed onto "overload".
The basic plot line has reporters Claire Trevor and Cesar Romero determined to outscoop each other, and after Romero gets the better of Trevor on the scoop of a run-away heiress, the race is on for Trevor to get the rights to the Dionne girl's story. She utilizes them to help a fundraiser for an orphanage, and Romero scams her with a story of the birth of sextuplets where it's all a big plot to humiliate her. It's sort of prophetic considering recent events concerning the publicity surrounding an annoying mother who tossed her 8 children into the world's face before becoming one of the most hated people on the planet.
Practically every character performer on the 20th Century Fox lot appears in small roles here, including Slim Summerville, John Qualen, Jane Darwell and Spencer Charters, and that aspect alone makes it appear that the studio rushed this together to get mileage out of the publicity concerning the five little girls. I can understand the curiosity over the first successful birth of quintuplets, but as history has shown, sticking your nose into the lives of innocent children can do more harm than good. It's also obvious to me that in Stephen Sondheim's song, "I'm Still Here", from "Follies", that the mention of "Five Dionne Babies" was written in an element of disgust. Overall, this is a curiosity piece of bad taste that shows society at its worst and the press at its most intrusive. I think I'll leave the children's parents alone. Their participation in this fiasco is obvious.
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