Cary Grant Cuts to the Heart of Middle-Class Dissapointment (Really!) in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

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08/06/2009 3:12 PM |

Cary Grant, Mr Blandings

BAM‘s welcome Cary Grant series continues tomorrow night with H.C. Potter’s Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House (1948), a buoyantly late-screwball comedy from Golden Age Hollywood with an improbably sharp feel for middle-class disappointment. Movie-star god and goddess Cary Grant and Myrna Loy play a perfectly average Mad. Ave man and his missus, who leave their cramped Manhattan apartment after becoming infatuated with a Connecticut money pit. General Gates watered his horses there during the American Revolution, we’re told — and like Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road did a decade later, Mr. Blandings makes (much more lighthearted) farce out of the awful truth about the postwar ideal of suburban home ownership, positing its paterfamilias as a completely impractical, incapable homesteader (in contrast to the trailblazing American history he mostly travesties). Though Grant is, as ever, more charming than we mortals, and a deft hand at physical comedy, Mr. Blandings is irritable, paranoid, and emasculated — both by the specter of his wife’s possible infidelity with (mostly asexual, but certainly confident and godlike) friend and narrator Melvyn Douglas, and by his own incompetence, as he’s bossed around by real estate agents and contractors, and confounded by falling beams and faulty locks. By its close, the film comes close to complete disillusionment with the then-nascent American urge to nest (there’s an obvious parallel to our recent, even more booby-trapped housing boom), though it ultimately reaffirms the American Dream — through a last-minute, racially problematic plot solution ex machina device (think Fannie Hurst and John M. Stahl’s Imitation of Life) handled so swiftly and glibly that it may or may not be self-parody, but which either way is a cutting reminder of the real architects of this white middle-class dream home.