Back in February, you folks may remember that I published two reviews under the theme of “Two films, one tale, one Tyrone” — reviewing 1937’s Love is News and its remake, That Wonderful Urge, both of which star Tyrone Power. I never intended to turn “Two films, one tale” into a series here on the blog, but I just can’t help myself. One sleepy Saturday last month I decided to pop Walk, Don’t Run into the DVD player for a re-watch. The film ended, and in attempt to figure out what to do with the rest of my day, I noticed that I had saved The More the Merrier on my DVR last time it aired on TCM. Why not re-watch that one, too, and put a couple of posts together comparing the 1943 flick with its remake? That’s just what I’ll be doing with this post and tomorrow’s!
The More the Merrier tells the story of Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur), a woman attempting to do her patriotic duty by offering up half of her apartment to someone in need of a place to stay. You see, it’s wartime, and with a flood of soldiers heading to the capital, everyone is having trouble finding accommodations. Though she’d much prefer to share her apartment with a woman, she reluctantly agrees to let Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) stay with her. He soon invites soon-to-be-deployed Joe Carter (Joel McCrea) in to share his half of the apartment, and complications ensue. George Stevens directs this tale of love and lodging arrangements.
Oh, how I love this film. The More the Merrier is an absolute delight and one of those pictures that I love even more with each re-watch. It has a great script, bringing plenty of laughs as well as a hefty dose of sweet, romantic moments. Along with the romance and the situational comedy of three strangers sharing an apartment, there’s a little subplot having to do with spy allegations against Joe, which is also quite funny. A young neighbor running from Joe in terror! FBI men knocking down the door just as Connie and Joe are finishing a heartfelt conversation!
Every minute of the film is enjoyable to watch, made even more appealing by the great cast. Charles Coburn won an Oscar for his performance as Benjamin Dingle, a playful and scheming older man who plays matchmaker to Connie and Joe. His presence is reminiscent of a close, meddling uncle. He doesn’t try to control the lives of Connie and Joe, but immediately recognizes that they belong together and makes sneaky little moves to ensure that they figure it out for themselves.
The chemistry between Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur in the roles of Connie and Joe is wonderful, and the viewer can’t help rooting for Dingle’s schemes to work out. I’m a fan of these stars individually — both so very talented, and so very charming. I know of very few classic film fans who aren’t whole-heartedly in love with Joel McCrea, making him the perfect choice for the romantic lead. As for Arthur, she’s one of the most purely likable actresses to grace the ’40s screen and is a perfect fit for this role. As a pair, they work splendidly, sharing banter and breakfasts and dances. The way that the script seems to throw a wrench into their relationship every time they come close to admitting their feelings for each other only serves to build tension, making the viewer root for them even more!
As you’ll have learned from my introduction to this post, if you weren’t already aware, this film was remade in the 1960s as Walk, Don’t Run. Both films are highly enjoyable but one area in which the ’43 version has an edge on its remake is in the believability of Connie’s dilemma as an unmarried woman sharing an apartment with the opposite sex. While many heads would have turned at the mention of such co-habitation in 1964, when Walk, Don’t Run is set, in 1943 it would have been genuinely scandalous. The world was at least beginning to change its attitude in the mid-1960s. No such luck for poor Connie, who is placed under enormous pressure by the prospect of such a scandal marring her reputation… but it all works out for her in the end, in typical Hollywood fashion, to the delight of Connie, Joe, and the audience.
Stay tuned tomorrow for a full review of The More the Merrier‘s Cary Grant-starring remake, Walk, Don’t Run!