Cary Grant was one of the screen's true movie stars, the consummate professional who could play dashing heroes, romantic leads, and lightweight comedy roles as well as or better than anybody before or since. And, frankly, there are few movie stars anymore who actually look like movie stars. Grant had a profile chiseled in stone, which accounted for part of the fun, no doubt, that Hitchcock had in hanging him off the Mt. Rushmore monument in "North By Northwest." In the 1948 comedy, "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," Grant is at the top of his form. He's funny and urbane, the movie is perceptive and witty, and the whole thing is a welcome treat on DVD.
If you've ever seen "The Money Pit" (1986) with Tom Hanks, you'll have some idea what's going in "Mr. Blandings." They are both movies about house building and remodeling gone amuck, but while "The Money Pit" went way overboard with its exaggerations, "Mr. Blandings" stays within the realm of believability and is much the better for it. Because most everything in "Mr. Blandings" seems like it could really happen, and because Grant becomes more engaging as things become more hectic in his character's life, it makes for a funnier picture.
The story concerns a New York City ad executive, Jim Blandings, who finds himself yearning for a house in the country when things begin to close in on him and his wife and two daughters living in a small, cramped apartment. When he discovers that he is going to have to pay out a large sum of money to redo the apartment, he gets the idea that maybe owning his own place in the peace and quiet of rural Connecticut might be a better alternative. Little does he know.
Like his name, Mr. Blandings is rather a bland sort, an everyday, common man just trying to get along without shoving anybody (to paraphrase Steinbeck). It has always amazed me that a movie star of Grant's caliber and celebrity could so easily pull off these kinds of roles. The incredibly handsome, photogenic, movie-star image seems to disappear as Grant becomes simply the harassed Everyman.
Myrna Loy plays his wife, Muriel Blandings, a loyal and comforting sort with even more desire to get out of the city than her husband has. Admittedly, Ms. Loy takes a back seat to Grant, but she holds her own in their scenes together. More to the point, Melvyn Douglas plays Grant's lawyer and best friend, Bill Cole, and it is he who equals Grant throughout the film, remaining calm and assured when Grant's character is losing his control, and getting off the best, most-clever quips. Reginald Denny has the only other role of significance as the architect Blandings hires to build them their dream house.
Yes, it's build they must, since the house poor Blandings buys in Connecticut turns out to be too decrepit to live in. But it comes with thirty-five acres of farmland, orchards, woods, and stream. That in itself would have convinced me to move. Bill tells the Blandings they got gypped on the deal, but Blandings is adamant about wanting the house built by hook or by crook.
When the house wreckers come to demolish the old place, the fun starts. Everything goes wrong from drilling a new well to blasting a ledge. Costs skyrocket when the family members each want something different and more expensive added to the architectural drawings, including four bathrooms, a flower sink, and a maid's room! Blandings makes things worse by insisting that he make all the decisions himself rather than consulting his lawyer about anything, creating more than a few disasters. The family is even forced to move into the house ahead of schedule and sleep on the floor.
The film was directed by H.C. Potter ("Mr. Lucky," "The Farmer's Daughter," "The Time of Your Life") from a best-selling novel by Eric Hodgins. Not everything in the movie works, of course. The film's pacing, for instance, especially in the beginning, seems tepid and slow, and the apartment environs seem almost claustrophobic, but both elements are intended to establish the constrictive atmosphere of city living. Additionally, Blandings developing a jealousy about his wife and best friend overcomplicates what is essentially a very modest plot, but it was probably in the book and does no harm. Moreover, the Southern California countryside that attempts to fill in for Connecticut is slightly disadvantageous, but this, too, is of little consequence. The film's good humor and stubbornly upbeat cheerfulness prevail.
Warner Bros. apparently found an excellent print of the film in their vaults, because while it does not appear to be a restored edition, it is very clean. The Academy standard, 1.33:1 ratio, black-and-white reproduction is not as strongly contrasted as it probably would have been when new, and there are occasional tiny age flecks noticeable, but otherwise the picture is quite good, if, as I say, a little faded. Some minor line flutters can be seen in things like window shutters and checkered clothing, and a very light grain shows up in broad white areas of the screen, but it's nothing of concern.
The film's sound is probably close to what would have been heard in theaters of its day, here reproduced via Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural. It is commendably clear, with almost no background noise unless turned up to unnecessarily high volume. The dynamic and frequency ranges are limited, as expected, but the all-important midrange is well defined and thankfully free of the hardness that sometimes accompanies older soundtracks.
I was surprised that WB executives were able to find as many bonus items as they did to complement the movie. First, there are two radio broadcasts of the show, one for the Lux Radio Theater (October 10, 1949) with Grant and Irene Dunne, and a second for the Screen Directors Playhouse (June 9, 1950) with Grant and Betsy Drake. Next, there's a vintage cartoon, "The House of Tomorrow," that contains a couple of cute gags. And then there's a Cary Grant trailer gallery containing trailers for ten of Grant's films: "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," "North By Northwest," "Night and Day," "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," "Bringing Up Baby," "My Favorite Wife," "Destination Tokyo," "Gunga Din," "Arsenic and Old Lace," and "The Philadelphia Story." The extras conclude with twenty-five scene selections; English as the only spoken language; and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
I hope I've made it obvious that I like "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" a lot. I liked it the first time I saw it on TV in the 1950s and again this latest time I watched it on DVD. It is not a film classic, to be sure, but it is lighthearted, throwaway fun that bears up well to repeat viewing.
The movie may be purchased on its own or in a Warner Brothers box set, "The Cary Grant Signature Collection," with four other Grant features: "Destination Tokyo," "Night and Day," "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," and "My Favorite Wife." None of these may be counted among Grant's very best films, but they do show off his range of talents.