The More The Merrier (1943) – A Review
With World War II raging and a housing shortage in Washington D.C., working-class gal Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) decides to sublet her apartment to a female roommate. However, she gets talked into renting out her extra bedroom to tenacious middle-aged Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn). Dingle doesn’t quite jive with the meticulous scheduling lifestyle of Connie’s. The eccentric old-timer then decides to rent half of his bedroom to traveling sergeant Joe Carter (Joel McCrea).
This is more than Connie bargained for. She thought she was doing her part in helping the war effort and alleviating the housing crisis by getting a female roommate. Now she has two men living in her apartment and both are causing her headaches!
But wait a second, this guy Joe doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. Could it be that Connie is starting to like him and vice versa. I wonder if with some prodding by Mr. Dingle these two lonely souls will find happiness in this crowded apartment with each other?
Every now and then I’ll watch an old romantic comedy and think to myself – ‘Oh wow, they actually used to make movies like this!’
There was really a time when a romantic comedy was funny and charming. They were executed with wit and charm. There were characters you liked. There was chemistry onscreen. You really wanted to see the two leads get together. I wonder why they don’t make good romantic comedies like this anymore? I guess, the definition of a ‘romantic comedy has changed nowadays.
This is such an enjoyable movie. Director George Stevens slowly sets the stage for the fireworks inside this apartment and for the sparks that will inevitably fly between Arthur and McCrea. Coburn is amusing as the befuddled roomer who tries to work with Connie’s minute-by-minute morning routine.
Of course that results in failure and a bit of slapstick. Coburn won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year for his performance and he certainly is a memorable presence in the movie.
The complications really start to surge with the arrival of McCrea’s Joe Carter at the door. We know immediately that Joe and Connie are a match, despite her animosity towards him and his declaration that he’s not looking to get involved.
Taking place on the homefront during WWII is a unique setting for a romantic comedy. Apparently it upset quite a few people at the time that a comedy would dare trivialize wartime. So I imagine the movie had its fair share of controversy when it was released.
One ongoing joke is that there is eight women to every man in D.C. McCrea keeps getting told this until at one point he’s literally surrounded by eight women vying for his attention, but we know none of them is the girl for him.
Stevens utilizes the apartment set in very creative ways to reinforce the building connection between the two. We see them each dancing the rumba separately in perfect unison rooms apart. Their individual private dances is naturally a setup to later on in the movie
The apartment walls and windows really get used. The way many scenes are staged and shot Arthur and McCrea look like they are both in the same bed at times as they converse through the wall. They’re intimate and romantic scenes.
It’s kind of surprising to see that knowing the strict production code at the time. I wonder how they ever got away with it. I’m somewhat shocked they didn’t give Stevens a problem with it. I guess the idea that there’s a wall between the two was enough to allow it, but through the editing and the shots you would never know it.
McCrea is very good in this. I always view him as sort of an every man kind of performer. He might not have had the brightest flair and a big screen persona like other actors from back then, but he’s really likable in many of his roles. He’s like a working man actor who can handle any kind of part he’s given to play. in any genre And here he’s funny, romantic and charming.
I love Jean Arthur and she really makes this movie for me. She’s so incredibly cute and sexy and extremely funny. She can rattle off rat-a-tat-tat dialogue better than any actress and be an expert at slapstick as well.
There are some great romantic tension-filled scenes between her and McCrea. Them awaiting to go on a date only if Connie’s long-time fiancé doesn’t call by eight o’clock. They’re each nervously watching their clocks, McCrea is hanging out his window looking at the clock down the street, one of them nonchalantly taking the phone off the hook.
Then there’s a passionate walk back to the apartment where McCrea simply can’t keep his hands off of Connie while she tries to ignore his attention – she’s technically engaged afterall. Really good scene.
Towards the end things get a little too contrived with a possible scandal that will embarrass Connie’s fiancé, but by then I’m already so roped into the story and characters I roll with it and enjoy watching Arthur and McCrea and bask in them finally tearing down that wall between them.
I couldn’t find the trailer, but here’s the walking home scene with McCrea and Arthur