Saturday, May 08, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The trio of Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas star in MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948), which will be released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive later this month.

I've loved catching up with old favorites thanks to the Warner Archive's Blu-ray releases, which recently included another Grant film, ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952). MR. BLANDINGS was another opportunity to revisit a film for the first time in a number of years.

Grant and Loy play Jim and Muriel Blandings, who are squeezed into a New York City apartment with their daughters Betsy (Connie Marshall) and Joan (Sharyn Moffett), not to mention their cook, Gussie (Louise Beavers).

(Why a homemaker in a tiny apartment needs a cook is beyond me, but such is life in 1940s movies...)

One fine day Jim and Muriel decide it's time to leave the big city behind and buy a more spacious home, and they fall in love with a decrepit old house in Connecticut. They buy it, little understanding that they are going to need to tear down the home and rebuilt from scratch, dig a well, and a million other increasingly expensive things that go with building a new house.

Hovering in the background as narrator is old family friend Bill (Douglas), an attorney who regularly tells Jim he's making mistakes, and whose attention to Muriel is starting to bother Jim.

That's pretty much the entire plot of the movie, but it's a lot of fun. As a young film viewer I think I found the movie a little edgier than I'd hoped -- the girls, in particular, spend the entire movie pouting, and Bill is a little too "present" in the Blandings home -- but watching it now gave me a lot of chuckles. Part of that might be because I've been through a home remodel myself!

The thing that gives me the greatest pleasure about the film is Myrna Loy, who is just a stitch, whether she's painstakingly describing the shades of paint she wants to an increasingly bewildered painter or protesting her innocence when it comes to an expensive change order regarding flagstones. I recall that Frank Capra described Jean Arthur's voice along the lines of being "a thousand tinkling bells," and surely that description applies to Loy, as well. Just listening to her in this film makes me chuckle.

Grant does a good job walking the line between being a man in love with his wife and the idea of a new house and someone completely exasperated with the problems which come his way before he and said wife can live in their new home.

Douglas also nails his slightly smarmy role; I use that adjective as he clearly enjoys the moment when a neighbor catches him alone in the house with Muriel, wearing a bathrobe. (There was a rainstorm involved...)The scene where Jim arrives home the following morning and Bill again walks in in his bathrobe, and Grant's slow double-take and burn as he stares at his friend, is perfectly played.

Bringing sunshine into every scene she's in is wonderful Louise Beavers as Gussie. I would have been happy to see more of her in the movie. The supporting cast also includes Reginald Denny as the Blandings' long-suffering architect, Lex Barker as a construction worker, Lurene Tuttle as Jim's secretary, and Tito Vuolo, Ian Wolfe, Harry Shannon, Nestor Paiva, Jason Robards (Sr.), Emory Parnell, and Don Brodie.

The movie was directed by H.C. Potter and crisply shot in black and white by James Wong Howe. The script of this 94-minute film is by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, based on the novel by Eric Hodgins.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative. It may not be absolutely perfect but it's very good, surely the best the film has yet looked for home viewing, and it sounds terrific.  I was quite pleased with it.

Extras carried over to the Blu-ray from the original DVD release are the Tex Avery Cartoon "THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW" (1949) and two radio productions, a Lux Radio Theater (1949) show with Grant and Irene Dunne, and a Screen Director's Playhouse (1950) version with Grant and Betsy Drake. I love the "alternate casting" we get to experience thanks to old time radio shows and appreciate the Warner Archive including these programs in several recent releases.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Amazon Store or any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

A perfect example of the kind of genuinely funny story, yet with a realism running through the situation that many can relate to, that never gets made any more without being either grossly crude or over-the-top (or both). Such a good movie.

12:45 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

This picture is based on a true story and the house in question was valued at $38,000.00, I will take three.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Pamila Daniel said...

I love this film and watch it whenever it's on, but I always thought, instead of Gussie getting a raise she should've been given a position at the ad agency!

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Tony Wendice said...

Critics have really blasted Cary Grant for making films like this (thinking it was beneath his talent) but I have to disagree. This film is a delight from start to finish. It's no masterpiece but I'd rather watch this than Fellini's 8 1/2 any day of the week. Grant is perfect for this kind of material and dear Myrna Loy telling the contractor what colors she wants for the house leaves me in stitches every time. Just love this one!

3:37 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, that's a wonderful description -- funny but within the bounds of realism. It's certainly stood up to many viewings over the years. I remember my oldest son getting a particular kick out of this film when he was young so it's also a genuine "family film."

Barrylane, I love that!

Pamila, maybe you're right! Gussie was a smart lady. I also love her upbeat attitude, which helps offset some of the film's more stressful aspects.

Tony, I agree with you completely. Seeing 8-1/2 once in college was enough for me (grin), but I've gone back to MR. BLANDINGS numerous times over my lifetime. The entire cast is marvelous but it's definitely Grant and Loy who make it work. If there were justice in the world there would have been an Oscar or something for Loy, who's simply brilliant in the comedic scenes. "Just four little pieces of flagstone...that's absolutely all I did!"

Best wishes,

11:54 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

It is a wonderful film. Pure entertainment. I love the relationship between Grant, Loy, and Douglas/ There is a comfortable easiness about them. Douglas clearly relishes Grant's annoyance in his ever-increasing presence. I think that is mostly as he knows he is clearly no threat to their marriage. With Grant at the end of his patience with the house Douglas is just something he doesn't need.

Loy couldn't be more lovely or more endearing. That is why she always gets her way even when she won't get exactly the shade of blue and yellow she wants. She wins.

We win for 94 minutes.

6:23 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on MR. BLANDINGS, Chris. I was interested in your interpretation of Douglas's character. It doesn't speak well of him to me that he enjoys needling Grant's character in that way, especially under stressful circumstances, but I also think you're right, he knows he won't get anywhere...and it was just a little too much on Grant's plate right then.

This is one of Myrna's most charming performances!

Best wishes,

2:51 PM  

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