Bill (Jack Benny) and Connie Fuller (Ann Sheridan) live a decent life in New York City, but they have one major problem: they can’t find the right place to live. At their current apartment, they’ve run into trouble with the landlord, who hates their mischievous (and slightly destructive) dog.
Unwilling to give up the pup, Connie naturally decides that the family’s only option is to move. Ever the antique lover, Connie tracks down a for-sale farmhouse, which George Washington supposedly slept in once. She buys it, hoping that Bill will love it as much as she does, despite its shabby condition. He’s pretty furious when he sees it for the first time, but it’s already been bought. They have no options other than to attempt to fix it up.
Connie devotes herself to restoring the old place, along with her younger sister Madge (Joyce Reynolds) and gift-with-home-purchase handyman Mr. Kimber (Percy Kilbride). Complications ensue as the house’s problems reveal themselves, and as the Fullers find themselves stuck in a dispute with their new neighbor.
William Keighley directs 1942’s George Washington Slept Here, based on the play of the same name.
Being the animal lover that I am, I was delighted to find that the whole reason this film has any plot to speak of is because of a dog. Connie’s willingness to move rather than give up her beloved pooch is very endearing (I’d do the same), and without the pup causing landlord trouble, there’d be no reason for Connie to buy such a rickety house on such short notice.
As is inevitable, the renovation process comes with its fair share of mistakes and surprises. Connie remains dedicated to the task of restoring the house’s glory throughout it all, making me wish that HGTV existed in the 1940s, complete with a Connie-hosted Fixer Upper program — preferably hosted by a single Connie, or a Connie married to a man much more delightful than Bill!
Because, Bill… oh, Bill. His sarcastic quips are entertaining, but who’d want to be married to him? The miserly man is a major grump, though his frustration becomes very understandable by the second half of the film, as the house’s pile of needed fixes reaches the height of Everest.
There’s a very stark contrast between Connie’s positive attitude and Bill’s pessimism. Her positivity and can-do attitude could have very easily been transported into a more serious and sentimental family fix-r-upper flick. His negativity is played for comedy — successfully, for the most part, as discussed above. And the fact that they are so different plays a major part in the film, with Bill eventually suspecting his wife of being involved with a local antiques dealer. I do wish, however, than Benny and Sheridan had more chemistry.
On a more positive note, Benny does bring many of the film’s laughs including a Boris Karloff reference, nicknaming the house “Fuller’s Ark,” and calling his rambunctious nephew “Huckleberry Dillinger.” Sheridan does well in her role and is very likable to the audience, playing a character that was originally intended for Olivia de Havilland. Also a highlight of the cast in Charles Coburn, appearing as the quirky Uncle Stanley, a relative who offers sometimes-misguided assistance to Connie and Bill during their neighbor dispute.
No renovation comedy will ever match the appeal of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (starring Myrna Loy and Cary Grant), and George Washington Slept Here has its share of missteps, but it’s still a very pleasant, easy watch. Worth tuning in for to see Ann Sheridan play the “straight man” to Jack Benny’s accident-prone husband character.