I try to come up with some sort of theme for each of these articles I write for Year of the Month, I really do; where it fits into the time period or has something to say about different eras of film. But this movie defeats that sort of preconceived notion. I could, I suppose, come up with something about how it’s part of postwar USA, or how it shadows the beginning of the flight to the suburbs, but I just feel like this is where I drop all that and talk about how much of a delight this movie is.
This is Cary Grant (Jim Blanding) and Myrna Loy (Muriel Blanding) at the height of their powers in a story about how they, as a married couple, living in a tiny three-bedroom apartment in Manhattan that they share with their teen daughters, bag all that to move into a dream house in Connecticut. Naturally, everything goes wrong, from finding the house they’ve bought needs to be demolished to water table problems to cost overruns. This is something we’ve all seen in various movies (I keep thinking back to The Money Pit, but younger folks might go with the loose remake Are We Done Yet?) and it’s all in the execution, something this movie has in spades outsides of one weird little misstep.
Thankfully, one of the people involved in that misstep is also the absolute delight of this movie. Grant and Loy are top-level here, but what really elevates Mr. Blandings is their friend and lawyer Bill Cole, played by Melvyn Douglas. Every bad decision they make, he is there to make things right — and even better, to deliver wry commentary on the proceedings. He works with the script by long-time writing duo Melvin Frank and Norman Panama like Hendrix playing a Fender; it’s really a joy to see. I’m admittedly a sucker for great character actors stealing scenes and this one is a delight; how someone can steal a movie from Grant and Loy in 1948 is a bit of a wonder, but Douglas does it with panache and joy.
Unfortunately, he’s also dragged into that one misstep. There’s a jealousy side plot late in the film where you find that Muriel dated Bill as well back in college. It really comes out of nowhere, acts as a two-second roadblock and does nothing to advance the plot at all. I’m all for a good romantic subplot, but this one is completely unnecessary especially in a movie where it’s clear that the Blandings are really into each other but just dealing with the stress of house buying and moving.
Now here is where I’m going to pull some Stephen King on y’all.
Mr. King, in his excellent survey of horror movies and literature, Danse Macabre, has some really interesting things to say about the terrors of real estate (at this point he’s specifically talking about The Amityville Horror and The House Next Door). For many people, buying/renovating/moving into a house is one of the most stressful things they will ever do. King is obviously talking about horror literature here, but this is worth considering even in a comedy like this. People just plain go nutty when it comes to houses and that’s ripe for both horror and for comedy.
Mr. Blandings isn’t apparently one of the better-remembered titles for Grant and Loy these days, which seems odd. They’re both appealing as hell in this, Melvyn Douglas is simply killing it here every time he’s on screen and there’s also a fantastic couple of scenes from Harry Shannon as a local well digger. 1948 is a great year for drama and comedy, but this is a comedy that you shouldn’t let slip away from you.
Oh, and Myrna Loy picking out wall colors will never not be great.