Anyone who’s ever built a new house or is a homeowner who’s gone through renovations to their existing property will identify completely with the nightmarish scenario of H.C. Potter’s Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a farcical comedy of domestic exasperation.
The Production: 4/5
Anyone who’s ever built a new house or is a homeowner who’s gone through renovations to their existing property will identify completely with the nightmarish scenario of H.C. Potter’s Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a farcical comedy of domestic exasperation. Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are the unwitting victims of architectural and constructive chicanery in a laugh out loud look at the perils and pitfalls of modern suburban fact and fantasy.
Squeezed into a two-bedroom, one bathroom New York City apartment with bulging closets and crowded cupboards that can’t begin hold everything a family of four would want, advertising executive Jim Blandings (Cary Grant) and his wife Muriel (Myrna Loy) begin dreaming of their own colonial home in suburban Connecticut, but when the claptrap structure they finally buy is better bulldozed than renovated, the Blandings find themselves building a new home. With their dreams of domestic luxury far outpacing their budget, the family begins undergoing a nightmare of construction problems and cost overruns that triples their original estimate, and kibitzing by family friend Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas) doesn’t help matters as Jim struggles not just with mounting bills but with an approaching deadline on an ad campaign that has gotten other agency personnel sacked.
Norman Panama and Melvin Frank’s screenplay (based on the novel by Eric Hodgins) wastes no time in establishing the crowded and frenzied atmosphere the Blandings are enduring: jammed New York City streets, subways, lunch counters, and beaches as well as their own cramped apartment where one bathroom simply won’t suffice for the Blandings adults and their two school-aged daughters (Sharyn Moffett, Connie Marshall) and the family canary has to be carted from room to room to make room for the adults. The two adults stumble and bumble their way through the purchase of the property (paying more than twice its worth) and then compound their headaches as wells are dug in the wrong places and underground rock patterns demand dynamiting, none of which was budgeted. The construction becomes a money pit (which was the title for the film’s remake decades later) that causes ever-widening eyes in the exasperated owners, all captured simply and hilariously (though some of it is laughter-through-tears if one has ever gone through a similar situation) through H.C. Potter’s spot-on direction. There is a running gag with a storeroom door that always locks trapping those within, and Mrs. Blandings’ beloved flower sink earns its own share of giggles (as well as a wonderful moment where Muriel discusses in detail the specific hues of butter and periwinkle and Winesap she wants for each room with the painter who inevitably notes once she leaves, “green, blue, yellow, red, and white”).
A master of slapstick vexation and stubborn willfulness, Cary Grant is front and center as the put-upon Jim Blandings. True, quite a few of his problems are of his own making blundering into decisions without seeking legal help (and his best friend a lawyer) or because he’s too proud to admit he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but they’re still wonderful fun for the viewer to observe. Myrna Loy underplays another of her faithful wives while Melvyn Douglas, a fine light comedian at this stage of his career, gets to cast droll aspersions on his friends as they sink ever further into astronomical debt. Sharyn Moffett and Connie Marshall are typical movie kids who are a lot smarter and more sophisticated than their parents while Louise Beavers as the family cook adds her usual joie de vivre to every scene in which she appears. Reginald Denny is the calm and collected architect who attempts to give the Blandings their dream house while Ian Wolfe, Harry Shannon, Tito Vuolo, Nestor Paiva, and Jason Robards, Sr. are the foxes in the henhouse compounding the expenses for the horrified owners. Yes, that’s RKO’s next Tarzan Lex Barker in a small role as the head carpenter.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully presented in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is crisp and detailed throughout with no age-related problems from scratches, splices, or missing frames. The grayscale is likewise very pleasing with whites and black levels as rich and robust as one would expect from a Warner Archive blu-ray presentation. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is solid and free from any age-related problems with hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter. There are some slight but notable variations of volume levels with the obvious ADR of dialogue in certain scenes, but otherwise, dialogue, the Leigh Harline background score, and the sound effects all blend smoothly together in a most professional soundtrack.
Special Features: 2/5
The House of Tomorrow (6:51, HD): 1949 animated short
Radio Broadcasts: Lux Radio Theater (57:27) with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne (who was the original choice for Muriel but was unavailable for the film) and Screen Directors Playhouse (29:34) with Cary Grant and Betsy Drake (to whom Grant was married at the time).
Theatrical Trailer (1:38, HD)
It may be the comedy of monetary pain and suffering, but H.C. Potter’s Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is nevertheless a funny and frolicsome comedy lark. Warner Archives has provided a superb video and audio transfer of this 1948 comedy classic, and it comes with a firm recommendation.
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