Every Sunday Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents:
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
Most of the people who seem reluctant to dig into older films come to me with the same issue: old films are too serious. They seem to believe that everything in black and white is a drama, in French, filmed using crayons, starring people who speak at ten words a minute. This is, of course, patently untrue, and one of the best examples of proof against this boring theory is Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.
Jim Blandings (Cary Grant) and his wife Muriel (Myrna Loy) have decided that living in a tiny New York City apartment just isn’t for them anymore. The solution? To build a gorgeous home in the wide-open spaces of sunny Connecticut. This proves slightly more difficult than they initially expect.
The film opens with a slapstick act ripped straight out of Vaudeville (or borrowed from The More the Merrier) wherein the main couple, their children, and cook attempt to get their morning routines done in a space meant for two. The easy tone of the comedy doesn’t get any harsher throughout the film, but that doesn’t mean it gets any less funny. There’s nothing wrong with laughing at a man who can’t shave because the bathroom is too small to extend his elbows.
Furthermore, the premise here is achingly simple. It’s high concept: two people build a house and keep running into trouble. The comedy comes both from the passive responses from the builders, contractors, and real estate agent and from the over-the-top response from Jim Blandings as his entire endeavor falls apart in front of him.
Plus, there’s something incredibly fulfilling about watching Cary Grant struggle.
That, and the presence of legends Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas (as the level-headed lawyer who guides the audience through the story in voice over), are the key to the success of the film. There’s not much remarkable about the story, although the incidents and tribulations that the family face are spot on when it comes to frustration levels. However, with The Money Pit and Are We Done Yet? as other attempts at the storyline as proof – Blandings has something that the others don’t. That something is its actors.
Grant can achieve something that even Tom Hanks can’t – and certainly Ice Cube can’t. By the time Grant had filmed this movie, he was already a bona fide star, and he still had over a decade left of strong, consistent work ahead of him.
The same goes for Myrna Loy. She had been in show business for 23 years when she filmed Mr. Blandings, and was hot off the success of the Thin Man series of films. She and Grant had been paired just a year before with The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer (a movie that I’ll probably be spotlighting soon), and the success the duo found there transfers over here beautifully with the same brand of comedy that comes with a sly smile and wink.
In fact, they work so well together that it’s hard to believe they didn’t simply continue to team up for more films. However, you could say that about a lot of pairings that Loy was involved in – making her a key element in the success of a movie. Unfortunately, her career didn’t continue with as much gusto after about 1950 – opting to do television work, and appearing not as the young ingenue or married woman, but as the older woman in movies like Midnight Lace.
The type of humor here is something that everyone can enjoy because, even if you haven’t built a house yourself, the emotional focus is on attempting something that seems to get more and more difficult as the days go by. We all have those goals in our lives – probably more than one – and we can all remember the feeling of seeing the end of a project on the horizon only to be told that a major complication will push everything back or not allow us to do things the way we want.
The point is that there are a ton of great examples of comedy from the 1930s and 1940s that should prove to skeptics about the nature of “serious film” in the old days. After all, people have always loved to laugh. Mr. Blandings is just one example, but it’s definitely an example worth checking out as a gateway to finding old cinema that goes down easy.