Continuing on in Star of the Week mode, I am offering up my review of a comedy well-known in the world of classic film, but rarely broadcast on television outside of TCM. It is the delightful Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, starring our Star of the Week Myrna Loy and co-starring Cary Grant, with Louise Beavers in a great supporting role as the Blandings’ maid. It was released in 1948 by RKO Radio Pictures.
The story concerns an upper-middle class liberal family, the Blandings, who are living in a small apartment in New York City where Jim Blandings has an advertising office. The family’s dream is to move away from the hustle and bustle of city life to a country house in Connecticut, where Jim could commute to work every day and come home to peace and quiet in the evenings. When they discover an old abandoned house in Connecticut for an affordable price, they consider their dream realized–though they realize the house will need some work. They set out to fix it, and…it turns out that the Blandings got more than they bargained for with this house.
With the problems increasing in number and severity as the film goes on, they begin to dominate the family’s pocketbook and infiltrate the family’s very sanity. The house also begin to threaten Jim’s work, as he is so exhausted and frustrated by the problems with the house, he is unable to meet the deadline for a slogan for his company’s client, the WHAM ham company. He eventually quits his job when he is told to come up with a slogan by midnight, only to come home to his family, including his maid, Gussy, who, incidentally, loves WHAM. When Jim’s children ask if they’re going to have WHAM for breakfast, Gussy tells them “If you ain’t eatin’ WHAM, you ain’t eatin’ ham!” The lightbulb over Jim’s head goes off, he tells his wife to give Gussy a raise, and he rethinks his idea to quit his job. From there, everything in the Blandings’ life goes uphill, thanks to Gussy, and the house problems resolve themselves.
The film is very advanced in many ways, and really does stand the test of time. I watched it recently with my sister, who is not particularly a classic film fan (though she does have respect for movies that are quality), and she LOVED this movie. She thought it was very funny and very modern, and I agree with her–it could very easily have been made within the past few years. Cary Grant and Myrna Loy have fantastic chemistry (I mean…did anyone doubt those two would be amazing together?), but I think the star of the show has to be Louise Beavers, in the role of Gussy the maid. Gussy coming up with that ridiculous catchphrase for WHAM was probably the best part of this very funny movie, and it’s a real testament to her talent that she could steal the show away from the likes of Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.
One caveat I might give to this otherwise glowing review is that the problems the Blandings family faces sometimes get a bit too much for the audience to handle, especially since we do get so invested in these characters, and I found myself rather embarrassed to admit that I had sort of taken on their problems personally by the time the movie was over. So this may not be the correct movie to watch when you have a lot to worry about in your life–you don’t need the Blandings’ problems! But on the other hand, it might make you realize how sane your life is compared to theirs.
Check out some clips below. It’s unfortunate that there are so few clips on youtube, and it’s not usually readily available at your local video store, because it’s a real gem. Enjoy!