Can a couple from the city ever move to the country and have it be a smooth transition?
Never! According to the movies.
After being evicted from their New York apartment Bill Fuller (Jack Benny) is shocked to learn his wife Connie (Ann Sheridan) impulsively bought a house in Pennsylvania. It’s supposedly a piece of American history, as Connie believes George Washington once slept under its roof, but it doesn’t look fit to house Washington’s horses!
When Bill gets a look at the ramshackle structure they now own Ann’s hopes of him ever falling in love with the place look grim. Especially with all the money and unexpected problems that are laying ahead for them to make the place livable!
The template is set and much the same as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) and The Money Pit (1986) you know what’s going to happen. I think every generation is meant to get the ‘fixer-upper comedy’. It just seems like a universal story that can be mined for laughs no matter what era it takes place in.
Immediately Benny is against the idea of country living and when he sees the shack that they now own his frustration gets even worse. Benny does the exasperated irritation with his trademark smirk and sarcastic one-liners throughout.
As he learns they have no water, there’s confusion about property lines, train schedules, doors falling off hinges, horses wandering into rooms, falling through floors and the inaccuracy of the houses history, it’s one nightmare after another for the Manhattanite.
Benny is a complete contrast to Sheridan’s unshakable optimism and excitement. They make a good couple, with Sheridan, who is looking very cute, essentially playing straight woman to Benny. I don’t know how she wouldn’t be worn down by him.
Them arguing about the more universal problems, mainly money, is the funniest parts of the movie. The bills gets higher with such oddball needs as buying tons of dirt. Unable to comprehend the need, Benny incredulously exclaims “The one thing we have around here is dirt!”.
Some of the other comedy are a bit more broad and slap-sticky, and I didn’t think they worked as well. Benny excels at the dialogue and reaction humor, but the movie’s physical gags came off rather hum-drum. Watching him fall down a well doesn’t get any funnier no matter how many times it happens.
As the movie progresses and the house gets in better shape things start to drag a bit. These comedies have to include some other elements than just raising the walls and fixing the roof. So, the supporting cast come in to lend a hand with some subplots. Sheridan’s sister wanting to run away with a professor, a visit from their rich Uncle Stanley (Charles Coburn), Hester the put upon maid (Hattie McDaniel), problems with an annoying neighbor and Benny getting jealous of the attention a local is paying to Sheridan.
The best addition is the stone-faced caretaker Mr. Kimble (Percy Kilbride), whose unflappable demeanor and distinctive face makes him one of those character actors and performances that makes an impact and is one of the best things I took away from the movie. Apparently Benny demanded Kilbride reprise his role from the Broadway play for the film. Good thing he did, he carves out a very memorable part in this.
All in all, it’s a pleasant enough comedy. It’s probably not one I’ll be revisiting very soon. I still prefer Mr. Blandings.
An interesting trailer with Benny in a screening room commenting on the film