October 15, 2016

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
Grade: 74/100

Director: H.C. Potter
Stars: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Melvyn Douglas

What it's about. Cary Grant is a New York City Madison Avenue slogan writer. He lives in a crowded flat with his statuesque wife Myrna Loy, their two school-aged daughters Sharyn Moffett and Connie Marshall, and black maid Louise Beavers. Best friend to the family is Melvyn Douglas, a pipe-smoking lawyer with plenty of free time.

Grant decides that his family merits a larger home, in the Connecticut countryside. A series of comic errors ensues, which leaves Grant the broke but proud owner of his dream house. Players in the financial fiasco include crafty real estate agent Ian Wolfe, well driller Harry Shannon, architect Reginald Denny, rock blaster Tito Vuolo, and carpenter Lex Barker.

How others will see it. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House was a box office success, but was ignored by the various film festivals. It managed only a nomination for Best Written American Comedy from the Writers Guild. Given that Hamlet (1948) won Best Picture, it is safe to say that good comedies were underappreciated that year, as in most years.

Today at imdb.com, the film has 8K user votes, respectable for a 1948 black and white comedy. The user ratings are lower than expected, especially among young men. Women over 45 grade the film highest, at 7.8 out of 10. It may be that young viewers find the movie tiresome, or even depressing, since it presents Grant's slide to financial ruin aside from a last-minute career triumph.

How I felt about it. Cary Grant's sole Academy Award was honorary, but today he is regarded as one of the best classic Hollywood actors, with perhaps only Humphrey Bogart held in greater esteem. Bogart may have been the better dramatic actor, but as a romantic comedy actor, Grant has never really had any equal. As such, he was the first choice of every director for a third of a century, until Grant tired of reading bad press discussing the age difference between himself and his latest female lead.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is much better than the typical comedy, and our task is to determine why. The cast is excellent, of course, and the dialogue is snappy. Since the career of director H.C. Potter is undistinguished, given its length during Hollywood's golden era, we instead credit the writer/producer team of Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, who had a more compelling track record.

As for the film's message, it's all about looking before you leap. Grant may have been correct in his move to Connecticut, but he made many financial mistakes, because he did not plan ahead. He did not compare property values, and paid too much for a house that would soon have to be torn down. He is now mired in debt, at a time when he might lose his highly compensated position.

Because it is a comedy, it all works out. Due to the Production Code, Loy does not leave Grant for the curiously unmarried middle-aged Douglas (Grant always gets the girl, anyway). Perhaps a remake is in order, with the more logical ending of Grant fuming alone in a New York City apartment, while "Uncle Melvyn" lives with Loy and the two girls in the Connecticut dream house.

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