Oscar Vault Monday – The More The Merrier, 1943 (dir. George Stevens)

It’s hard to write about any film that was nominated for Best Picture in 1943 since the winner that year is almost universally thought to be one of, if not the greatest film of all time – Casablanca. That being said, there were some other really great films that came out in 1943. I decided to go with one of my favorite recently discovered classic comedies, George Stevens’ The More the Merrier. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one: Best Writing – Original Story, Best Writing – Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor Charles Coburn (won), Best Actress Jean Arthur, Best Director and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Heaven Can Wait, The Human Comedy, In Which We Serve, Madame Curie, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Song of Bernadette, Watch on the Rhine and winner Casablanca.

The film takes place in Washington D.C. during the housing shortage of WWII. Several films were made around the same time (including a few of the fellow Best Picture nominees for 1943) about life on the home front during the war. This one in particular I really love because it takes a pretty serious problem (the housing shortage) and puts a comedy spin on it. In case you’re interested, the film was remade in 1966 under the title Walk, Don’t Run starring Cary Grant, Samantha Eggar and Jim Hutton; it was Grant’s final film role. While it is fun, it’s definitely not as a great as the original.

While the film itself doesn’t mention the housing shortage that often, when it does it’s only mentioned in passing. The most dynamic mention of it is when Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) first arrives at the apartment of Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur), who has posted an ad looking for a roommate. There is literally a crowd of people looking to get the room. If you’re interested in seeing another film on the same subject, I’d suggest you try to find a copy of the 1949 William Holden/Lucille Ball film Miss Grant Takes Richmond.

At this point in her career Jean Arthur was one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. She’d been active in the business for nearly twenty years and had been featured prominently in several Best Picture nominees/winners, including Mr Deeds Goes To Town, You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and The Talk of the Town. Despite her high-profile she’d yet to receive an Oscar nomination. In fact, The More The Merrier was the only Oscar nomination, for Best Actress, that she ever received. She only made a handful of films after this one, as well as a 12-episode sitcom entitled The Jean Arthur Show in 1966.

I’m glad she was nominated for this performance, however, because I think she was at the top of her comedic game in this film. She’d had plenty of time to hone her comic timing and director George Stevens used her skills perfectly. Arthur also demonstrates her ability to bring subtly and real human emotions to her characters in the latter half of the film. It’s just a perfect performance if there ever was one. She lost the award, however, to Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette.

Charles Coburn was nearly sixty years old when he made his film debut in 1933, but in the twenty years he was active in the industry he made nearly 95 films and television appearances. He was also nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor: The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), The More The Merrier (1943) and The Green Years (1946). He won for his role in this film and boy is he fantastic in it. He’s jolly and meddling and really he just wants the best for his new-found friends.

I love Joel McCrea. The first film of his I ever saw was 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game (the most thrilling 60 minutes you will EVER watch). He made about 95 films and television appearances in his 50-year career. He also met and married actress Frances Dee on the set of 1933’s The Silver Cord and the two remained married until his death on their 57th wedding anniversary. Nowadays McCrea is probably best known for Preston Sturges’ 1941 classic Sullivan’s Travels. Despite being a very popular star, especially in the 30s and 40s, McCrea was never nominated for an Oscar. I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite performance from him, but I will say that he is insanely charming in this film. And also shirtless for a pretty great amount of time. His chemistry with Arthur is sizzling hot. Stevens is pretty great at capturing smoldering sexual tension (see: Giant) and this film is no exception.

The bulk of the film is interactions between two of the three main characters, but the scenes that include all three are just so much fun. Especially great is the first scene in which all three meet. Coburn’s Mr. Dingle has brought Sergeant Joe Carter (McCrea) to sublet his half of Arthur’s Miss Milligan’s apartment, without her knowledge. Throughout about a ten minute scene or so Carter takes a shower (mmm shirtless McCrea), while Mr. Dingle tries to convince Miss Milligan that he’s the one in the shower. Each character is never in the same room at the same time for most of the scene until boom! Miss Milligan, hair in pigtails and face cream on her face, runs into Joe in his bathrobe. The scene is filled with such exquisite comic timing on behalf of all three of its stars.

Stevens creates so many wonderful scenes, especially when he’s splitting the screen between the two sides of the apartment. Steven received his first of five Best Director nominations for this film; he won twice. At this time the Academy was still nominating studios and not the film’s producers for the Best Picture category or this would have been Stevens’ first nomination in that category as well. Regardless, he was also nominated for his work in producing four times, though he never won. The film is filled with great camerawork, which just enhances the stand-out performances, together creating a perfect little gem of a film that is just as fun to watch now as I’m sure it was nearly seventy years ago.

If you’re interested in purchasing this film, you can do so here.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on April 18, 2011, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Sounds like a lovely film. I will look out for a chance to watch it. Thanks.

  2. I so completely agree. This is one of my absolute favorite films ever. I remember once watching it three times in a row — straight.

    It’s genuinely hilarious, no matter how many times I watch it.

    And Jean + Joel is SO adorable.

    And Charles Coburn is awesome too.

    Great review!

  3. I love Jean Arthur — I will have to see this!

  4. I also was quite surprised by this movie. I’d never heard of it and wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was quite amazed by all the performances. They made some of the more silly gags (trousers) really funny.

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