Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House ★★★

A Trojan Horse exhortation to leave cramped urban spaces behind for wide-open suburban bliss, with a mocking opening montage of "Manhattan! New York! USA!" undercutting Melvyn Douglas' narration with images of grim-faced men scarfing diner food on the mid-day fly, a non-respite between falling into dirty snow and being shoveled onto overcrowded subways. Why settle for urban grime — with its unwanted intrusions into one's private space (expensive and inadequate) — when one could have a place of one's own in the countryside? The post-WWII novel was based on Eric Hodgins' pre-war experiences, but the difficulties of a new housing shortage aren't mentioned, only implicitly alluded to, and it took me a fair amount of reading to reconstruct the inevitable subtext that would've been embedded in the film at the time of its release.

Now it comes off as insidiously bland, with Cary Grant suppressing his meticulous urbanity and pretending to having no greater aspiration than domestic mediocrity. His opening routine is a marvel of silent, body-language-only constriction and frustration, trying to navigate a morning routine in impossible spaces, but that's the last trace of real waspiness. The message ultimately is that one's fellow Americans are trustworthy (even when they seem to be gouging you, they'll still square up if they've been overpaid $12.36) and that financially ruinous aspirations to a very particular kind of middle-brow/-class living are the most noble thing in the world. Buoyed by impeccable performers and inevitable fascination with the details of period construction, but ends on an appropriately/inadvertently rancid note, when black housekeeper Louise Beavers inevitably suggests a new tagline for Wham Ham that gives adman Blandings a new campaign in the nick of deadline time, saving his job — the second time in film history (after 1934's Imitation Of Life) that Beavers' way with foodstuffs leads to the enrichment of a white person.

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