Sunday, February 29, 2004

Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 February in Jay's Living Room (WGBX)

I remember really enjoying The Money Pit when I was a kid, but that wasn't why I had the ReplayTV record this one. It had just been too long since it had grabbed a Thin Man movie, and Myrna Loy was in this. So, what the heck, why not?

Sadly, the movie is not very funny. It starts out with an amusing montage about what a pain in the neck city life can be, which is whimsically cut and narrated. Soon, we're introduced to the Blandingses, and while there's some humor in how a family of four gets in each others' way in a downtown apartment, it's here that the film's weaknesses soon become apparent: First, the parents aren't terribly sympathetic characters. Part of this is due to watching a 1948 movie from a 2004 perspective, but it's difficult to muster much sympathy for their money troubles in the second half of the movie when they've got a maid and Mrs. Muriel Blandings doesn't work. Even at times when I'm NOT unemployed, it's kind of hard to work up much sympathy for people who seem to have it pretty good.

More frustrating, the pacing seems to be just off. There's something very stage-y about the delivery. Again, maybe it's my MTV-generation brain finding a simpler time frustrating, but it's not just the lack of overlapping dialogue or other methods to hammer home the chaos of the situation. It's often like the performers are still rehearsing the sight gags, performing them at half speed. There's an early scene where Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are trying to share a bathroom that would be hilarious slapstick if it were given the sort of choreography you find in a musical, or a Jackie Chan movie, but instead it feels like everyone is aware of how precise they have to be. The comedic timing's just not right.

In the end, I'm not sure whether Blandings is a lesser movie or whether the medium has advanced enough to leave it behind. I'd like to think it's the latter, although I've seen plenty of movies that clearly represent an earlier era but still hold up. I guess that's what makes them classics and this movie a relic.

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