Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are Jim and Murial Blandings. After spending years living in a cramped New York City apartment they decide to move out of the noisy city with their two daughters and settle in the quiet countryside of Connecticut. There they’ll find a lovely spot and build a house where they’ll have plenty of closet space, enough bathrooms to go around and it will be all wrapped in a picturesque warm home.
Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Blandings don’t realize it won’t be that easy. They start on a path that turns into constant headaches, mounting costs and unexpected problems to get their dream house built. Will their dream house be worth all the frustration?
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is based on a book that was very popular at the time. The best word I can describe the film is ‘charming’. It’s really difficult to not like it. It gets a lot of mileage out of its premise and all the actors are a joy to watch.
At the time Cary Grant was one of the biggest stars around. And seeing him perform here you can see why. The guy truly had that onscreen charisma and really knew how to handle light comedy.
The opening scene of him walking through his New York apartment struggling with everything he’s trying to find, stumbling all around and attempting to put stuff back in its place is simple but extremely amusing and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. His double takes, dead-eyed stares and exasperated looks are all quite funny.
He’s matched by Myrna Loy who is as adorable as ever and balances Grant’s klutzy, flustered performance with attempts at being more of the voice of reason between the two.
There’s something of a reversal of the traditional gender roles here. Jim is the impulsive one, allowing his decisions to be won out on emotion with this house. In the beginning he easily rationalizes spending more money and going with his heart through this whole ordeal. It’s almost like the vision of owning his own home clouds any better judgment that he should have about actually getting it made.
Murial on other hand seems to be a bit more level-headed and always wants to take things a bit slower. She’s wants to get second opinions on everything, namely getting the advice from family friend Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas). But Mr. Blandings thinks he knows best, which seems to always backfire on him. And when that inevitably happens Bill is more than ready to toss a smart-alec remark at Jim throughout the ordeal.
One thing that really jumped out while rewatching this is really appreciating the character actors who add extra spice to the proceedings. They’re all colorful little characters, they serve their roles well, never upstage the stars, but somehow are given their own moments to shine briefly.
Smith (Ian Wolfe) the realtor slying eyeing this naive couple. Mr. Zucca (Tito Vuolo) getting angry at the discovery of a ‘ledge’. Sims (Reginald Denny) being overwhelmed with the couples requests. And then there’s Mr. Tesander (Harry Shannon) hired to dig the Blandings well which seems to be bottomless. His easygoing, relaxed replies of ‘Yep’ is a wonderful punctuation to his scenes.
Perhaps the most humorous and famous scenes from the movie involves Mr. PeDelford (Emory Parnell) the painter listening to Mrs. Blandings give very detailed descriptions of her desired color scheme for the house. The scene builds to a very funny payoff by PeDelford and his worker. I remember years ago seeing this particular scene being used in a paint commercial.
Aside from the Blandings house being built there are two subplots that run throughout the movie. The first is Blandings being assigned the advertising campaign for Wham – ‘The Whale of a Ham’. It’s an important account and Blandings future employment may depend on coming up with the perfect slogan for it. Yet, with his mind so preoccupied with the construction of his house Blandings isn’t finding much inspiration for Wham.
Jim is also dealing with some growing jealousy brewing as he watches Murial and Bill acting much friendlier towards each other. Does he have reason to be suspicious that there’s some romantic relationship between them?
I never thought this particular subplot worked very well and always felt it was clunky and seemed pretty forced. It just seemed very unnecessary to include in the story. The issues with the house and the big move are much more compelling and have funnier payoffs. Fortunately, while Blandings’ jealousy creeps in at small moments throughout the film it comes to a head towards the end and is smoothed over very quickly.
Whenever I watch this film I’m still entertained by it. The whole cast is really good and it continues to be a charming little movie. It holds up very well. I suppose you could be amused by the low cost numbers the Blandings get buried under by today’s standards. The standard of living certainly has changed since 1948.
But it’s easy to sympathize with the couple struggling with their new home, which has been an eternal dilemma no matter what decade or century it’s taking place in. The premise has been used again several times to update it, The Money Pit and Are We Done Yet? And most likely it will be used again one day.
I was happy to learn that the house that was constructed for the film is actually still up and being used today. Apparently it’s located in Malibu Creek State Park and its being used as an office for the park employees. It looks pretty different and I don’t think I would ever recognize it if I didn’t know that was the house Mr. Blandings built.
The trailer isn’t very good. In fact it focuses on the weakest storyline of the entire movie….
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