George Stevens classic Screwball Comedy, The More The Merrier is so rich in detail and flavour that it clearly depicts 1943’s Americana to a hilt.
World War II was a formidable time for millions worldwide. Due to the extreme housing shortage many people were forced to share their homes or apartments with strangers while other less fortunate visitors had to resort to sleeping on park benches. Out of all the cities in America, Washington was the worse hit with a rapid influx of people that could’t be catered for entering the city to assist with war related services.
With the world at war, Hollywood and the movie studios were forced to undergo several changes to help support the war effort. The most notable adjustment that was made at the time was the subject matters of the films. Instead of the escapist vehicles that were largely popular during the Great Depression, audiences now wanted to see films that offered an ounce of realism or productions that focused on war related situations.
Due to the catastrophic events that were taking place around the world, you wouldn’t think that genres like Screwball Comedy would be effective, but in truth an array of films from this genre that contained war themes were quite dominant at the time.
George Stevens was one of Hollywood’s most exalted names. In a career that spanned more than seventy years, Stevens transcended in all facets of the film industry and garnered a plethora of accolades for his achievements. The early 1940’s was a prolific period for Stevens who was maintaining a busy schedule in juggling three assignments for Columbia Studios.The last of these projects was The More The Merrier, a successful Screwball comedy in which Stevens served as both director and producer.
The More The Merrier is based on Garson Kanin’s short story, Two’s A Crowd, and written for the screen by Lewis R. Foster, Frank Ross and Robert W. Russell, with Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn headlining the production.
At the time filming went into finalization, Jean Arthur was in altercations with Columbia for rejecting too many projects. Arthur who was irascible with the studio about the lousy roles she was being offered was yearning for a part that would enhance her reputation, so her and her husband, Frank Ross assigned Garson Kanin to construct a vehicle that was tailor made for her.
In Washington in 1943, beautiful and young Connie Milligan ( Jean Arthur ) resides in an apartment by herself while a plethora of visitors are left stranded on the streets or in shelters with no accommodation. To fulfil her patriotic duty Connie decides to lease half of her apartment to someone desperately in need of a room, but Connie soon discovers that she gets more than what she bargained for when her ideal female occupant turns out to be, Benjamin Dingle ( Charles Coburn ) a retired millionaire who is in town for business purposes and implores her to let him stay while he serves his mission. However this complicated arrangement becomes even more impracticable when Benjamin sublets half of his room to Sergeant Joe Carter ( Joel McCrea ) so he can help spark the romance between him and Connie.
The More The Merrier is a superbly crafted and imaginative film that provides a thorough analysis on the housing crisis in Washington during World War II, while also venturing into the perimeters of Screwball Comedy.
Jean Arthur left an indelible mark in cinematic history for her dexterity and inventiveness in Screwball Comedy. In The More The Merrier, Arthur plays the role of a working girl who is trapped in a rather difficult engagement to Charles J. Pendergast, a stuffy business official who is very involved in his work, but is adamant in his plans on marrying Connie. In return Connie loves Pendergast and agrees to marry him. However her plans change when she falls in love with Joe Carter ( Joel McCrea ) the young engineer who is renting half of her apartment. Not only does Joe pay more attention to Connie, he makes her realize that Pendergast with his assiduous working schedule is not marrying material and instead of marrying for love and affection she would be marrying a career.
In addition to Jean Arthur, the films main focal point is Charles Coburn who attained an Academy Award for ‘Best Supporting Actor’. In what many consider to be his most memorable performance, Coburn portrays the role of Benjamin Dingle, a retired millionaire who arrives in Washington early to confront the housing shortage. After being told that there are no vacancies, Dingle is determined to secure a rented room in Connie’s apartment, and even though Connie strictly states that she wants a female, Dingle is obstinate and resolute and will do all he can to wangle his way into being her house guest.
The humorous farce is delivered in droves with Charles Coburn who brings the comic relief to the picture. As Benjamin Dingle, Coburn tries his hardest to be a reputable tenant, and even though he is a worthy gentleman, he fails in the process of being compliant. First he finds it hard to meet Connie’s strict morning schedule and gets himself amid innumerable shambles. Then the following day he offers half of his rented room to Joe Carter without Connie’s cognizance. Apart from a few attempts of telling him to move out, Connie tries to retain her patience, but once Dingle is caught reading her diary, she loses control of her tolerance and insists that Benjamin Dingle leave her apartment. Even though Dingle has been ordered out of her apartment he continues to play cupid by trying to make a romance evolve between Connie and Joe.
From the masterful cinematography to George Stevens consummate direction, The More The Merrier is a glorious romantic comedy that is abounded by plenty of wit and astute dialogue that makes for one frothy delight.
Joel McCrea didn’t originally think he was right for the part of Joe and thought Cary Grant would have been better suited. Ironically, Grant would appear in the remake,Walk Don’t Run (1966), albeit in the Charles Coburn role.
Jean Arthur: Born Gladys Georgianna Greene on October 17th, 1900 in Plattsburgh, New York. Died: June 19th, 1991 in Carmel, California. Aged 90.
Joel McCrea: Born Joel Albert McCrea on November 5th, 1905 in South Pasadena, California. Died: October 20th, 1990 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. Aged 84.
Charles Coburn: Born Charles Douville Coburn on June 19th, 1877 in Macon, Georgia. Died: August 30th, 1961 in Lenox Hill Hospital. New York. Aged 84.