Friday, January 23, 2009

Dad's Birthday

My father spent many years working as a building contractor, and later as a building inspector. For him, the perfect birthday movie would be Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Cary Grant stars in the title role, as an adman living with his wife (Myrna Loy) and two daughters in a Manhattan apartment. The apartment is much too small for the four of them, and Mr. Blandings decides that his wife's idea to renovate the apartment would be far too costly, so he decides to buy a house out in the country. This is a genre of movie that's been done a dozen times, and as you can guess, Murphy's Law strikes the Blandings. Anything and everything that can go wrong does, turning what should be that dream house on one's own several acres into an absolute nightmare which threatens to drive the family into bankruptcy.

If you've had a house built from scratch, or renovated your house, you'll probably recognize a bunch of the things that happen to the Blandings in this movie. The movie is supposed to be a comedy, and it's funny because it's true. I could relate some hair-raising gossip about nightmare customers and nightmare contractors, and Mr. Blandings has both of them. Both Cary Grant and Myrna Loy play clueless wannabes, unable to stop themselves despite the best efforts of their lawyer (played by Melvyn Douglas). One particularly funny moment comes when the carpenter asks Mr. Blandings whether he wants the lintels in the lally columns to be rabbeted. Blandings obviously has no idea what the carpenter is talking about, but doesn't want to let on that he's clueless, so he simply answers no, whereupon the contractor tells his workers to rip out the rabbeting, resulting in a rain of wood pieces falling down around Mr. and Mrs. Blandings. There's also the well-driller from hell, and Mrs. Blandings going into ridiculous detail over what paint colors she wants. (Martha Stewart was one of the guest programmers in November 2007, and Robert Osborne asked her specifically about this scene. Stewart replied that she enjoyed mixing her own colors and was rather exacting about this.)

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is a great comedy that has dated fairly little over the past 60 years, and one that can be enjoyed by the entire family. Grant and Loy are excellent, and exceedingly likeable; the contractors are suitably eccentric (watch for Jason Robards among their number); and the humor is appropriately accurate. Fortunately, the movie is also available on DVD.

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