Friday, July 2, 2010

Jack Benny builds his dream house

Movies about building or renovating houses often show the comic side of what can go wrong; it's all funny because it's true. One of the best-known examples of this is Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Several years before that, Jack Benny starred in a movie with a similar theme, George Washington Slept Here. That latter movie is airing overnight tonight at 12:15 AM ET on TCM.

Benny doesn't so much build his dream house, as get roped into it by his wife (played by Ann Sheridan). She's one of the worst tenants imaginable, getting evicted from one tony Manhattan apartment after another. She decides that the best thing she can do is find a house that they can buy, so that they'll never again have to be worried about getting evicted. However, she buys a fixer-upper without telling her husband. Needless to say, this place needs a lot of fixing-upping. All that money spent on repairs could prove costly, though, if they're unable to pay the mortgage on the house -- and they've got a neighbor who wants to make certain they can't pay that mortgage. Help seems on the way, however, with the arrival of their uncle Stanley (Charles Coburn), a wealthy man who spends his year going from one relative to the next.

Although I personally prefer Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House to George Washington Slept Here, the Jack Benny movie has a lot going for it. It's material that's right up Benny's alley, although some of the physical humor may seem a bit painful. The rest of the cast, hoewver, shines around Benny. Ann Sheridan shows she's quite good at comedy. We already knew Coburn was, and his presence in the second half of the movie is another one of those roles that fits an actor like a hand in a good glove. Even though both Sheridan and Coburn are quite good, two othe rsupporting cast members deserve more mention. First is Hattie McDaniel, who plays the long-suffering maid to Benny and Sheridan. If Benny had little choice in moving to this fixer-upper, McDaniel had even less, and has to suffer the consequences even more, as she's now stuck in a kitchen that has none of the conveniences you would have in New York. The other is the place's caretaker, played by Percy Kilbride. Kilbride would go on to play Pa Kettle, and plays the caretaker here in a similar underplayed style in which he's creating comedy but seems totally oblivious to it.

George Washington Slept Here seems not to have been released to DVD, so you're going to have to watch it on TCM.

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