The More The Merrier

1943, Movie, NR, 104 mins

Review

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A delightful and effervescent comedy marked with terrific performances. It's set in Washington DC during WW II when there was a significant shortage of housing and single males in that city. Arthur is a single woman who lives by herself in a tiny apartment. To do her part in alleviating housing problems, Arthur sublets half of the place to Coburn. The old gentleman is an affable roommate but is distressed to see Arthur without some male companionship of her own age. Coburn decides it's his duty to fix her up with some nice young man, so he sets out to find a suitable prospect. Eventually he meets McCrea, an Air Force mechanic who's in Washington to pick up some orders for a special assignment. Coburn rents McCrea half of his space and of course all sorts of slapstick complications ensue. Though there are plenty of fights over privacy and space in the quickly shrinking apartment, Coburn is able to rise above the mayhem. His matchmaking is successful as Arthur and McCrea fall in love, uniting in marriage at the story's end.

In lesser hands, this lighter-than-air farce could easily have gone flat, but under Stevens' skilled direction the three spirited leads pull it off. Using the small confines of the set with precision, Stevens builds up the tension (and thus laughter) between the Coburn-crossed lovers with a marvelous series of perfectly timed scenes. Like the characters in their cramped confines, situations seem to stumble into one another, building to a frenzied pitch. This was Stevens' last film before he entered the service himself, serving as a major in his position with the Army Signal Corps film unit. Arthur and McCrea play off each other in a fine display of comic acting. As the well-meaning Mr. Dingle, Coburn is nothing short of superb, stealing scene after scene with astonishing ease. Uncredited for his contribution to the screenplay was Garson Kanin, who came up with this script specifically to suit Arthur's comedic talents. Stevens was considerably impressed with Arthur, later remarking that she was "one of the greatest comediennes the screen has ever seen." THE MORE THE MERRIER often resembles a Frank Capra comedy in its situation and approach. Arthur, of course, had starred in several of Capra's social comedies in the late 1930s and there are a few references to those films here. However THE MORE THE MERRIER is certainly strong enough to stand on its own merits, a fine example of farce at its best. The film garnered Oscar nominations for Best Picture (losing to CASABLANCA), Best Actress (Arthur), Best Supporting Actor (Coburn), Best Director, Best Original Story, and Best Screenplay, with only Coburn coming up a winner. In 1966 the film was remade as WALK DON'T RUN, a rather dismal effort that provided an unsatisfactory conclusion to Cary Grant's wonderful career. leave a comment

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