If you read my blog, you’ll know that last weekend, I attended the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood, California. While I saw a good many films this year, there were a few bright standouts. One of them I had seen years ago, but didn’t really remember. I had such a good time watching it, I knew I was gonna have to write about it. That film is 1943’s The More the Merrier.
The More the Merrier was one of director George Stevens’ last comedies. When the war started, Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a film crew, shooting footage of D-Day as well as concentration camps. Consequently, after seeing the horrors of the holocaust, Stevens was only interested in making dramatic films. After the war, he made such classics as A Place in the Sun, Shane, and The Diary of Anne Frank.
While it makes sense that Stevens would have little interest in comedies after the war, it’s easy to see in watching The More the Merrier that he had great talent in that arena. The More the Merrier follows Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) who, in trying to be a good samaritan, decides to rent out half her apartment given the Washington D.C. housing shortage. Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), an older gentleman, talks her into renting to him even though she initially wanted a female roommate. Dingle decides Milligan needs a man. Dingle rents half his room to Joe Carter (Joel McCrea) in the hopes that sparks will fly. But, Milligan has a fiance….DRAMA. CONFLICT. COMEDY, ETC.
This film does so many things right, but the main reason it succeeds is because of the actors. Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn are superb, their comic timing exact.
Jean Arthur doesn’t get talked about enough. She paved the way for so many female comedians. She was beautiful in a simple way. She was smart. She had heart. She gave countless Oscar worthy performances and was Frank Capra’s favorite leading lady. It’s also worth noting that Arthur was in her early forties when she starred in this film and that her age didn’t matter…at all! Oh, how the industry has changed…
Coburn almost outshines the whole group as Benjamin Dingle. He’s bumbling and conniving, but at heart, a very sweet old man. Coburn had great success as a character actor, having noteworthy roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bachelor Mother. But, he ended up taking home the Oscar in 1943 for Best Supporting Actor in The More the Merrier. And believe me, it was well deserved!
Joel McCrea…I don’t even know how to express my feelings about. He had such a natural charm. He was just automatically likable. Cari Beauchamp introduced the film at the festival Saturday morning, saying, “It’s never too early for Joel McCrea.” I heartily agree!
The scene on the porch stoop is said to be one of the best love scenes in American cinema. Like many films of that era, it’s all suggestion. The sensuality and eroticism are all implied, but never directly dealt with. If you can watch this scene without having the hots for Joel McCrea, well, I’ll be honest, I don’t understand you. Just look at that face…
This film could have easily been a stage play. Most of the action takes place inside the apartment and the dialogue is, like most screwball comedies, fast and superbly quippy. The laughs are countless and even 73 years later, it’s a joy to watch.
Just a warning: After watching this film, you will, one, want to make “Damn the torpedoes!” your new catch phrase and two, be filled with sadness that Joel McCrea is not a possible suitor…or maybe that’s just me. 😍
Trailer (sort of – more just an elongated clip) below:
I leave you with this gif. If it doesn’t convince you to watch this film, I don’t know what will…