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With Cary Grant and Myrna Loy playing a happily married couple who decide to build their dream house in Connecticut, what could possibly go wrong? As far as Mr. Blanding’s house in concerned, just about everything, but in regard to the film, there’s nothing wrong with the foundations and structure of this charming gem that the whole family can enjoy.
Though the year is 1948, life for Jim and Muriel Blandings in New York City is very much like it would be today. They live with their two young daughters in the congested, overpopulated metropolis, where Jim works as an advertising executive. The apartment the Blandings call home is larger than one is likely to find affordable in twenty-first century New York, but it is still too small for a family of four. In a wonderfully realistic and humorous sequence, in which Jim’s effort to get ready for work becomes hazardous because of limited space, it’s clear that this family, especially poor Jim, needs larger living quarters.
Despite the discomfort of daily living, Jim initially isn’t convinced of this need and objects when Muriel suggests expanding their apartment. His resistance is to the cost, but he quickly comes around when he sees a persuasive ad for buying a home in Connecticut. Finding their dream house in the country promptly becomes the Blandings’ goal, and they set out on the search.
Thanks to the charm of Grant and Loy, as well as the witty humor of this delightful story, we are taken along for the ride as the Blandings seek their dream house. Duped by their imaginations and a guileful salesman, the purchased house turns out to be a costly mistake, but it ultimately leads to a new idea—they’ll build their dream house!
With that new goal, the central journey of the story begins, and the hilarity increases as the building project strikes more disasters than the builders strike nails. In the midst of the comedic havoc, there are several positive messages that Mr. Blandings and his dream house manage to convey. The relationship between Jim and Muriel, though not perfect, is overall a positive representation of marriage. When the chips—or in this case floorboards—are down, Muriel supports Jim with her partnership and offers forgiveness when his mistakes lead the family into potential trouble. This couple is also very much in love, despite the years that have passed and the kids who have come along.
Even so, Jim does at one point act suspicious of his wife, when he returns home after an overnight stay at work and catches Muriel at the house with Bill Cole, Jim’s best friend. Though this scene may sound questionable, the filmmakers are careful to make clear in previous scenes with Muriel and Bill that nothing immoral transpired, and Bill only stayed overnight because a severe storm and flooding caused his way back to the city to be closed. It is also evident that Jim only makes his wild, imaginative leap because he is at a climax of worry, fatigue, and stress that makes him abandon the trust he should have in his wife.
The failing of Jim in this situation is further redeemed by the opportunity it creates for Bill to demonstrate the friendship he has been wielding so valiantly throughout the rest of the film. Under a coating of tough love, Bill is always ready to offer support, guidance, and favors to Jim and Muriel. Even when Bill’s advice isn’t heeded, he is ultimately forgiving and consistently wants the best for his friends, doing everything in his power to help them achieve their dream. As a foil to Jim and Muriel, Bill also functions as an example of the value of level-headedness, savvy decision-making, and practical wisdom.
The other potential, albeit minor, cause for concern in this film is the Blandings’ two daughters, as they demonstrate a lack of respect for their father at times. However, these moments are dealt with in a realistic manner that allows them to be a humorous and essentially harmless representation of the scenes many parents encounter with their adolescents on a daily basis. In addition, the daughters’ obedience in most situations, enthusiastic greetings of their father, and other demonstrations of affection toward him compensate for these moments of questioning his authority.
This overall affirmation of family adds to the positive representations of love and friendship in the film, but this movie surprisingly has a few more layers of themes. By the end of the story, and without even noticing, we’ve absorbed additional lessons on the dangers of cynicism and mistrust, as well as the importance of perspicacity, wisdom, responsibility, and even the value of having dreams.
Along with the refreshing positive content of this film, it is full of the solid filmmaking one would expect from a Grant-Loy vehicle. The opening of the film starts a bit slowly, especially when compared with the fast pacing to which modern filmgoers are accustomed, but the understated humor and a strong script compensate for the initially sluggish storytelling. Director H. C. Potter, whom we have to thank for more than one clean and classic film, brings the best out of his actors and the screenplay, weaving a tale that is uncompromisingly, yet hilariously real. The Blandings’ quest for improving their lives and fulfilling their dreams hits close to home, tongue firmly in cheek.
Built on this relatable, clever story are layers of witty dialogue that are delivered with the exceptional comedic timing of Grant, Loy, and Melvyn Douglas, who plays Bill. Loved by audiences for their on-screen chemistry, Grant and Loy deliver again with their relaxed banter and genuine relationship. Though perhaps not as romantic as their pairings in other films, Grant and Loy achieve exactly what is appropriate and good for this story, becoming every bit the all-American couple, who just happen to be a bit more attractive and wittier than most. As Muriel, Loy is elegant as ever, yet has a down-to-earth appeal that she doesn’t convey in many of her other film roles.
The standout star of the show, as one would expect, is Grant. His role as Jim doesn’t call for the romantic charisma and suave sophistication that was Grant’s trademark, so he casts it off to instead display his comedic talent, which is equaled by few actors. Brilliantly funny, Grant handles both physical and verbal comedy with a natural effortlessness that never announces itself or tries to elicit humor. Instead, Grant is simply Jim Blandings, who turns out to be a very funny and likable fellow.
The great film stars of old. Good direction, acting, and script. Positive values, clean humor, and appeal for all ages. What do those qualities add up to? A true classic not to be missed. Mr. Blandings shows that the effort to obtain the American Dream might not be easy, but in this timeless movie, it’s sure fun to watch.
Check out these similar titles:
The Farmer’s Daughter (RKO Radio Pictures, 1947)
The Amazing Adventure (Garrett-Klement Picture, 1936)
Swiss Family Robinson (Walt Disney, 1960)