Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The More the Merrier (1943) at the Joel McCrea Ranch

Today my husband and I had the pleasure of making our third visit to the Joel McCrea Ranch in Moorpark, California.

In a bit of serendipitous timing, my latest article just published at the ClassicFlix site describes Joel's love for the ranch, where he lived for 57 years with his wife, actress Frances Dee.

Below is a scene near the ranch entrance; that's Wyatt McCrea, grandson of Joel and Frances, at the left. Wyatt has many happy memories of time spent at the ranch with his grandparents.

Here's the Visitors Center, which is also seen just behind Wyatt in the above photo:

This photo of Wyatt as a child hangs in the Visitor Center:

The photo can also be seen in the book JOEL McCREA: A FILM HISTORY, an updated version of the 1991 book JOEL McCREA: RIDING THE HIGH COUNTRY by the late Tony Thomas. Wyatt made revisions and wrote a new forward; it's a beautiful book, filled with marvelous pictures, and I highly recommend it.

The occasion for our visit today was a screening of one of my all-time favorite Joel McCrea films, the classic comedy THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943):

The docents at the ranch put out quite a spread for the movie, with candy, popcorn, and soda all included in the price of our admission tickets.

The film was shown in the Visitors Center, preceded by a 12-minute documentary on the ranch. What a treat to enjoy a comedy with an appreciative audience, all laughing together!

Raffle tickets were sold to raise funds for the ranch, and I was really delighted when one of our tickets won this ball cap and a beautiful calendar featuring posters from Joel McCrea and Frances Dee movies:

After the movie we spent time in the Vistors Center and walking the grounds. Here are a couple shots of the fine displays in the Visitors Center, which cover both the McCreas' Hollywood careers and life on their working ranch:

This was our first time to see the inside of the recently opened Milk House:

I was fascinated with this handmade butter churn. We learned on a previous visit that Alfred Hitchcock was a big fan of McCrea Ranch butter!

A chicken coop:

We were told this work table in the ranch shop was made by Jody McCrea:

Fans of McCrea and Dee, as well as those interested in California ranching history, should make every effort to visit the ranch.

As for THE MORE THE MERRIER, it's long been one of my very favorite films, and if I could describe it in one word, it would be "Perfect."

The story is the very best of multiple comedies dealing with the housing crisis in wartime Washington, D.C.; other comedies inspired by the problem are THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944), STANDING ROOM ONLY (1944), and JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944).

Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) tries to do her patriotic duty by renting out the spare bedroom in her apartment, and against her better judgment she allows an older businessman, Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), to move in.

Dingle spots handsome young Joe Carter (McCrea) apartment hunting and decides to rent half of his room to Joe in order to throw Connie together with Joe. Magic ensues.

Sometimes it seems as though almost every line in this 104-minute film elicits chuckles, if not outright laughs; it's a gem of comic timing, from Connie explaining the morning schedule to Dingle to the scene where he's locked out to the repeated gags about his missing pants and his forgetting Joe's name. McCrea and Arthur were never better, and Coburn won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor.

It's also one of the most romantic movies ever made, with perhaps the best love scene ever put on film, and that's no exaggeration. Sheila O'Malley expertly goes into great detail on the swoony "front porch" scene in a post at The Sheila Variations.

Despite having seen it countless times, I continue to notice and enjoy new things, such as the utter absurdity of Mr. Pendergast's toupee ("Mr. Pendergast has no hair!") or realizing Bruce Bennett is one of the FBI men who barges into the apartment and recognizing Ann Doran as one of Connie's friends swooning over handsome Joe.

For more excellent posts on the movie, please visit Another Old Movie Blog and Cinema Fanatic.

THE MORE THE MERRIER was directed by George Stevens. Prior to the movie we saw a segment about the film from the documentary GEORGE STEVENS: A FILMMAKER'S JOURNEY (1994). In the documentary Joel talks about getting to know Stevens and realizing what a "regular guy" he was, which led him to agree to make the film.

The movie was filmed by Ted Tetzlaff. The movie also stars Richard Gaines (NOBODY LIVES FOREVER) as Connie's fiance of 22 months, plus Frank Sully, Donald Douglas, Stanley Clements, and Grady Sutton.

A single woman living with one or two men may have lost its capacity to shock over the years, yet THE MORE THE MERRIER remains, as a friend said yesterday, "timeless."

THE MORE THE MERRIER is available on DVD. It was also released on VHS in the Columbia Classics series.

Previous visits to the Joel McCrea Ranch: November 5, 2011 and March 16, 2013.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Your day at the ranch sounds like such fun, and what a nice way to see "More the Merrier." Thanks for the link.

3:10 AM  
Blogger Melissa Clark said...

Sounds like a wonderful experience, Laura! Watching "The More the Merrier" is always a treat, but it must've been especially special seeing it at the McCrea ranch. Thanks for giving us vicarious visit with your blog post. :)

6:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jacqueline and MC, thanks for your notes! It really was such a fun day. I love being at the ranch and seeing one of my favorite Joel McCrea movies with such an appreciative audience was the icing on the cake. I'm glad I could share the experience! I hope that one day you might each have the chance to visit the ranch.

Best wishes,

12:34 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Oh how I wish I were there with you! This sounds like a fantastic experience. Thanks for sharing and for the photos. The More the Merrier is a lovely film. I watched it when I was feeling particularly cramped at home (Carlos and I have quickly outgrown our condo space) and wanted to watch films about people in tight living quarters. I watched this film and was delighted!

Great post Laura.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Raquel, it was a wonderful day!

That was a great idea you had to watch movies about people in your situation. Have you seen JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE? Your fave Robert Mitchum has a small role. It's on Warner Archive if you want to rent it from ClassicFlix!

Best wishes,

10:07 AM  
Blogger Melissa Clark said...

I'd also suggest APARTMENT FOR PEGGY to Raquel - another good movie about living in cramped quarters. :)

Laura, just wanted to mention that I bought the JOEL MCCREA: A FILM HISTORY book after you mentioned it here. It's fantastic! Lots of detailed information about our dear Mr. McCrea's movies and so many wonderful pictures. Thanks for the recommendation.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

MC, that's an excellent recommendation for Raquel, they were definitely in a tiny space in that one. :)

I'm delighted to know you bought the Joel McCrea book and have enjoyed it! Thanks so much for letting me know.

Best wishes,

11:24 AM  

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