Let me admit upfront that this Cary Grant comedy isn’t Philadelphia Story-great, nor did it launch a Thin Man-like franchise for Grant and Myrna Loy. Oscar nominations? (Nope.) Box-office blockbuster? (Nah.) But here’s the thing: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is cinematic comfort food, starring two legends with can’t-fake-it chemistry who make it all look easy. Sold!
Mr. Blandings is also a snapshot of the post-war zeitgeist. Cary plays a New York advertising exec with a “perfect wife” (Myrna, natch), a stay-at-home Mom who’s sharp enough to have her own career, but we’re talking 1948, people. The parents of two sassy daughters, they’re mid-middle class enough to have a maid (Louise Beavers), who saves Cary’s bacon with a snappy slogan for the Wham Ham account. Having outgrown their crib, the family opts to swap it for swell digs in the suburbs.
TCM.com picks it up from there: “[They] ditch their city dwelling for domestic bliss in the Connecticut countryside, only to find the way littered with obstacles. Shortly after finding the ‘perfect’ house, Jim and Muriel Blandings discover the structure is on the verge of collapse and decide to demolish the 170-year old estate and start from scratch. What follows is a debacle of new windows, doors and doorknobs that break, plumbing installed that doesn't work, and aggravation from temperamental architects, contractors and neighbors.”
See what I mean? This film isn’t trying to be more than it is: Sitcom-y tropes acted by a stellar cast, including Melvyn (Ninotchka) Douglas as Myrna’s flirty ex-beau. By the way, he’s delusional if he thinks he can woo her away from Cary (God’s gift to women) Grant, an implausible plot twist recycled a year later by Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and David Wayne in Adam’s Rib.
Blandings marked Cary and Myrna’s third and final screen match-up, coming hot on the heels of their 1947 hit, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Both actors were in their ‘40s, fan favorites and iconic stars who could believably play an ordinary married couple – albeit an impossibly glamorous and witty one.
“At the time,” TCM.com reports, “Grant and Loy were [in] a period of high popularity, with Grant coming off profitable years with Notorious (1946) and The Bishop's Wife (1947); I Was a Male War Bride (1949) was just around the corner. Loy had won wide acclaim for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and had teamed with William Powell for another installment of their popular ‘Thin Man’ series, Song of the Thin Man (1947).”
Lest you think Mr. Blandings was purely a work of fiction, it was actually based on the "money pit" misadventures of a real homeowner. Wikipedia notes, “Eric Hodgins' novel was inspired by his own experiences...Hodgins set out to build his dream house for $11,000, but ended up paying $56,000 for its completion. Two years after moving in, he was bankrupt and forced to sell the property.” (Yeesh!) Plus, thanks to a post-war housing boom, I'm sure millions of moviegoers could relate to Jim Blandings' plight.
Two of my favorite moments: 1) Gotta love when the Blandings’ daughter quotes this timeless truth about her father’s job: “Advertising makes people who can’t afford it buy things they don’t want with money they haven’t got.” And 2) this scene of Myrna painstakingly describing paint colors to her contractor. The clip is so well remembered, an edited version of it appeared in a 1993 Benjamin Moore Paints commercial. (I Google so you don’t have to!)