BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Cary Grant stars as advertising man Jim Blandings and Myrna Loy as Muriel, Jim’s wife/foil. Their Manhattan apartment is busting at the seams with two daughters and one bathroom.
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“MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE: WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION”
Blu-ray, 1948, unrated, good for the entire family
Best extra: The 1949 MGM cartoon “The House of Tomorrow”
TO SAY THAT Cary Grant is in his element in this breezy comedy is the Empire State Building of understatements.
Where many actors of his day relied on pratfalls and other broad strokes for laughs, Grant (“Bringing Up Baby,” “His Girl Friday”) tickled funny bones simply by arching an eyebrow. He was – and still is – the epitome of grace and wit, and frazzled advertising man Jim Blandings, who’s feeling the squeeze at work and in his New York apartment, suits him like a … well, a tailored suit.
“Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” finds him in ideal company. Myrna Loy, his co-star in 1947’s “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” (and William Powell’s sparring partner in the “Thin Man” movies), couldn’t be better as Muriel, Jim’s wife/foil, while Melvyn Douglas (“Hud,” “Being There”) brings the right touch of bemused cynicism to his turn as Bill Cole, the Blandings’ legal adviser and “good friend” (he was Muriel’s college sweetheart).
(1) “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” premiered on March 25, 1948, in New York City. (2) Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas) narrates the story as the Blandings’ legal adviser and “good friend.” (3) 7:30 a.m. and it’s time for Jim and Muriel to get out of bed. The Hollywood Hayes code of the 1930s forced married couples to sleep in separate beds. It was replaced with the MPAA movie rating system in the 1960s. (4) Jim gets an earful from his youngest Joan (Sharyn Moffett) after he accidentally opened the bathroom door. (5) Sharing one mirror is impossible. (6) Daughter Joan (Connie Marshall) reads a newspaper classified for the sale of a Connecticut farmhouse.
Add a top-notch supporting cast that includes Reginald Denny (“Rebecca”) as architect Henry Simms, Sharyn Moffett (“The Locket”) and Connie Marshall (“Daisy Kenyon”) as Jim and Muriel’s precocious daughters Joan and Betsy, Louise Beavers (“Imitation of Life”) as the cheery housekeeper Gussie, and Jason Robards Sr. (“Isle of the Dead”) as construction boss John Retch, and you’ve got a story that can’t miss.
You also have a story with wide, Everyman appeal as the Blandings pursue the American Dream. Smitten by an ad touting the idyllic Connecticut countryside, they pay way too much for a roomy “fixer-upper” dating to the Revolutionary War. You can guess what happens. They’re told by a parade of inspectors that the place is beyond repair and that they’d do better to tear it down and start anew.
As if. Before they can put out the welcome mat, their budget is shot. Jim, already feeling the squeeze at work to come up with a new slogan for WHAM ham, his agency’s bread and butter, has second thoughts about being a country squire. Not to worrry – all’s well that ends well. In the final shot, Jim is kicking back on the front lawn reading Eric Hodgins’ 1946 novel, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” And when he looks into the camera and invites viewers to drop by for a visit, you’re ready to take him up.
Directed by H.C. Potter (“The Farmer’s Daughter”), written by Oscar nominees Norman Panama and Melvin Frank (“Road to Utopia,” “Knock on Wood” and “The Facts of Life”), scored by Oscar winner Leigh Harline (“Pinocchio”) and filmed by the great James Wong Howe (Oscar winner for “The Rose Tattoo” and “Hud”), “Mr. Blandings” was a hit when it premiered March 25, 1948, in New York City and, thanks in no small part to the crew at Warner Archive, still scores big 73 years later.
(1) Jim and Muriel decided to take a look at the 170-year-old Connecticut farmhouse located an hour from downtown Manhattan. (2&3) The Blandings drive Bill Cole out to see the house and property, but they get lost and cross the covered bridge numerous times. (4) Architect Henry L. Simms (Reginald Denny) convinces them to build a new house.
Restored in 4K from the original 35 mm camera negative, “Mr. Blandings” (1.37:1 aspect ratio) brings the full cinematic experience to your house: clear contrasts, broad grayscale, consistent grain and sharp detail, especially in the suits and dresses, swatches of wallpaper and the blueprints that are used in the opening credits. There’s no let-up in the wide shots, either. The Blandings’ new abode – just for the record, it’s the Malibu Creek State Park Administration Building in Calabasas, Calif. – pops.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track comes through, too. The hammering and drilling and thunderstorm and singing birds all get equal play, and the dialogue is plenty clear, which is key, because it crackles. Like this exchange:
Jim (grousing about Bill): “What’s with this kissing all of a sudden? I don’t like it. Every time he goes out of this house, he shakes my hand and kisses you.”
Muriel: “Would you prefer it the other way around?”
Or this truism, courtesy of Joan’s teacher: “Miss Stellwagon says advertising makes people who can’t afford it buy things they don’t want with money they haven’t got it.”
There are only a handful, but they include two radio adaptations, each running an hour. The first, produced by Lux Radio Theater, features Grant and Irene Dunn, his co-star in “The Awful Truth” and “My Favorite Wife.” The other, part of the Screen Directors Playhouse, pairs Grant and Betsy Drake, his wife at the time and “Room for One More” co-star. It’s interesting to compare the two.
Save time, though, for “The House of Tomorrow,” the classic 1949 cartoon that imagines all the conveniences of homes in the 21st century. Oh yeah, it’s directed by Tex Avery, so buckle up.
– Craig Shapiro
(1&2) From an architectural rendering to construction. (3) Jim and Muriel have a devil of a time reading the floorplans as they show the house to Bill. (4) Drilling a new water well took days and ran over budget, as Jim talks to Mr. Tesander (Harry Shannon). (5) He tells the carpenters he’ll see them on Monday.
(1) Moving day as Jim carries Muriel across the threshold and onto the wet varnish floors. (2) The daughters discover their mother’s old college diary, which makes their father jealous. (3) The first night in their new bedroom. (4) Housekeeper Gussie (Louise Beavers) seems to have the right words for the WHAM ham campaign. (5) Roll the credits it’s the last shot.