The second film of Cary Grant week is a memorable tale of man vs. house. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House has inspired a slew of terror house films including The Money Pit and Are We Done Yet? The movie isn’t a rip-roaring affair, but a subtle tale of a family given the ability to do whatever they want with a house, and getting in way over their head. It’s also the first of two pairings we’ll see this week between Myrna Loy and Cary Grant, which creates an entirely new dynamic compared to Loy’s regular companion, William Powell.
Jim Blandings (Grant) and his wife Muriel (Loy) live in a cramped house with their three children in the big city of Manhattan. When Jim hears of a beautiful house in the country, he believes he’s found the respite that will propel him into the future. However, the house is a “fixer-upper” with enough fixings to drive him and his family crazy.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is hard to relate to today as the country continues to rebuild after the housing bust of a few years ago. The antics of the upper middle-class Blandings, who can afford to spend $15,000 on fixing up a house (in spite of Jim’s horror at the rising cost) can place the audience at a distance. I rolled my eyes at the “horrors” the family goes through, and envisioned countless other things to do with the money; of course, it’s not enough to ruin your enjoyment of the film. Mr. Blandings is a quaint and charming tale of a family realizing they don’t need to have everything.
It starts with Melvyn Douglas narrating the film as family friend, Bill Cole. He informs the audience, documentary style, of the bustling world of New York City; its modern technology, beautiful climate, and sense of community are all contrasted with crowds, noise and other unpleasant elements. We understand the hustle and bustle that wear down city dwellers, and the film seeks to prove that country living is the way to go. You really can’t find a better example of America than the Blandings. Even their name – Bland-ings – proves they’re just average Joes trying to make it in the world. Jim Blandings is the bread-winner and motivator within his household; it’s a refreshing change to watch him wake up the family, and start alerting the household to a new day, a job usually reserved for the wife in these movies. As Jim zigs and zags, anticipating his unpredictable children’s every move, you understand this is a routine embedded in his DNA. Grant is an ideal father representation; he’s dashing, compassionate, and has the most hilarious flabbergasted face I’ve ever seen. A subplot of the film involves him coming up with a slogan for ham that allows the African-American maid, played by Louise Beavers, time to shine in the climax.
The arrival and construction of the eponymous “dream house” is where the film finds its footing and where the comedy hits its stride. There’s a sequence where Muriel and Jim imagine what the house will look like once it’s finished – a golden dream home – that’s similar to the “knight in shining armor” bit in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. I don’t know if it’s a direct carry-over, but if you’ve watched the latter film recently you’ll take note of it. Loy and Grant are a darling couple, but they have an entirely different dynamic than Loy and William Powell. Loy and Powell are classy, elegant; their fights are spats filled with quippy dialogue that are resolved in seconds. Loy and Grant are a natural and realistic couple; they’re refined, but average. Their fights are drawn out over several scenes and are well-known in the Blandings household (their children’s refrain is “bicker, bicker, bicker”). Loy and Grant have fine chemistry and look gorgeous together. One can’t forget Melvyn Douglas the third wheel in the Blandings marriage. Another side plot has Jim becoming jealous that Bill and Muriel are spending too much time together – Muriel and Bill were also sweethearts in college. It never develops into a full-scale argument where punches are thrown. The climax revolves around Jim discovering Bill has spent the night alone in the house with Muriel, but it takes on the tone of niggling annoyance as opposed to marriage-crushing moment. It could have been excised in favor of more housing issues, but then we wouldn’t get the amazing Douglas. Douglas isn’t the austere wuss of Too Many Husbands; he’s a dapper gentlemen with a charisma and flirtation that would lead me to believe he could snag Myrna Loy or Jean Arthur. Bill also acts as a conscious for the Blandings family, especially once they become overwhelmed with the house.
The third act sees the Blandings become extravagant and extremely particular in what they want in the house. Muriel and Jim start out with good intentions – he wants additional closets to her additional bathrooms – only to transform into snobs desiring “flower sinks” and playrooms. They embody the type of people you associate with Bill’s narration: pushy, materialistic snobs. The dénouement is neatly tied up, and the Blandings don’t end up losing everything. In the end, they discover family is what’s important.
I can’t end things without including my favorite moment. Once everyone moves into the house it’s discovered there’s no windows in the window panes. When Muriel asks Jim to “go and lock all the doors,” he responds with “Why? There’s no windows anyway.” Mr. Blandings Buils His Dream House presents a dreamy situational comedy about a house from hell. Myrna Loy, Cary Grant, and Melvyn Douglas are all in top form and the film is a sweet comedy worth your time.
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