Movies You Might Have Missed: The More the Merrier

TitleThe More the Merrier
Release Date: 1943
Rating: N/A
Length: 104 minutes
Director: George Stevens
Starring: Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn
Language: English
Country: USA

The More the Merrier is a movie with a very defined setting for most of its running time. The whole of it takes place in Washington DC just after the US joined hostilities in World War II. Though it was released in ’43, it’s clearly set in the summer of ’42. DC, at the time, was a very crowded place with a severe housing shortage. A true replication of the setting is probably impossible, but the remake with Cary Grant set during the Tokyo Olympiad certainly gave it the old college try.

Charles Coburn plays an industry magnate who is called to DC on wartime business and arrives to find that his reserved hotel room is not available even one day early. Initially as a temporary measure he answers an ad placed by Jean Arthur offering to sublet a room of her apartment. She is doing this as a patriotic measure during the housing crisis and was clearly wanting to rent to another young woman. Coburn, however, has no scruples about engaging in some mildly underhanded shenanigans to ensure that he will be the one to get the room.

Having secured the room, met Arthur, and taken a paternal interest in her, he decides that he ought to play matchmaker for her and promptly sublets half of his own sublet room to Joel McCrea when he shows up late answering the same ad. McCrea is an army officer and an engineer who arrives lugging an airplane propeller with him. Hijinks ensue as Coburn endeavors to kindle romance between the two other occupants of the apartment against the initial inclinations of both parties. McCrea thinks it folly to become attached just before shipping out to a war zone and Arthur is already engaged to a weedy bureaucrat with a toupeé.

In a series of convoluted and spur of the moment maneuverings and schemes worthy of Wodehouse himself, Coburn eventually overcomes the obstacles and herds his reluctant subjects toward the alter and a happy ending. In terms of plot it’s not much more than a by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Coburn, however, is magnificent as a genial Machiavel, Arthur is engaging as the girl-next-door who is also a wartime career-woman, and McCrea is excellent as the apparently slow, big lunk who gradually reveals hidden depths of intelligence and wit.

I realize, of course, that a bald description of this sort doesn’t convey a convincing account of the quality of the movie. But the plot crackles along nicely, the dialogue is snappy and clever, and there are even a few physical comedy set-pieces of which the Marx Bros. would not be ashamed. It is an excellent comedy all the way around and I recommend it highly.

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