While The Money Pit was a cable staple in the 1980s, the film it is a (very) loose remake of, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is relatively obscure, considering it stars Cary Grant (Bringing Up Baby), one of the few “classic” stars to retain his cachet with the general public to this day. While his co-star here, Myrna Loy (13 Women), isn’t quite as well-known to modern audiences, both were very big stars in their day, and Mr. Blandings is a pleasant, if unexceptional comedy. One can only assume the leads more beloved films simply overshadowed Mr. Blandings.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is based on the novel of the same name by Eric Hodgins. The story is a fictionalized version of Hodgins’s adventures in buying a home in Connecticut. Grant plays Hodgins’s stand-in, Jim Blandings. Blandings is a New York City ad man who has lived fifteen years in the same cramped apartment with his wife Muriel (Loy) and two daughters. When Muriel decides to spend seven thousand dollars to remodel the apartment, Jim decides it would be better to buy. Without consulting his friend and lawyer Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas, The Old Dark House), he drives Muriel to Connecticut where they impulse buy an ancient farmhouse. When it turns out that the building is falling apart, Jim doesn’t give up-he instead knocks it down and hires an architect (Reginald Denny, Rebecca) to design him a new one-one that is exactly what he and Muriel want, right down to then-outrageous features like a bathroom for each member of the household. The difficulties that follow will try Jim’s patience, nearly destroy his career, and threaten his marriage-will the Blandings stick with it long enough to actually live in their dream home?
Mr. Blandings is an odd film in many ways. While the “out-of-touch city folk get in over their heads and get fleeced by workmen and townies” plot would fit in with many screwball comedies, the domestic half of the film is more unexpected. The children, other than questioning ad man Jim’s “parasitic” profession while showing off their “too good” education, are mostly after thoughts. The heart of the matter is a strange love triangle between Muriel, Jim, and Bill! Bill is always around, isn’t married, and used to date Muriel, so Jim gets to feeling very paranoid and threatened. Even in the 1980s remake they dialed things back by making the lead couple unmarried and the “Bill” character an ex-husband, which is more conservative in many ways. There’s also Jim’s work subplot, which is essentially him trying to come up with a way to advertise a SPAM stand-in called “WHAM”. The film focuses less on the slapstick and building mishaps, as The Money Pit did, and more on the interactions of the characters. Mr. Blandings is pretty dated-between the “high” price of the land, house, and work-all of $38,000-and the idea that a custom-house is unique in this era of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, not to mention Louise Beavers as, what else, the Blandings’ maid (in an apartment?), it’s clear we are not in the 21st century. Still, aside from Beavers, most of the dated elements are charming, and the comedy is good, and even Beavers’ maid is a completely reasonable character up until the last scene. This may not be the best film of Loy or Grant, but it is a solid comedy and certainly good viewing for those stressed out by home buying or ownership.