It's World War II and there is a severe housing shortage everywhere - especially in Washington, D.C. where Connie Milligan rents an apartment. Believing it to be her patriotic duty, Connie offers to sublet half of her apartment, fully expecting a suitable female tenent. What she gets instead is mischievous, middle-aged Benjamin Dingle. Dingle talks her into subletting to him and then promptly sublets half of his half to young, irreverent Joe Carter - creating a situation tailor-made for comedy and romance. Written by
The unusual little car Connie's friends drive is a Fiat Topolino convertible. 'Topolino' means 'little mouse' in Italian. See more »
When Mr. Carter goes to take a shower after Miss Milligan returns home from work, he is shown wearing a bathrobe, socks and slippers. As he enters the bathroom, he removes his bathrobe, and then gets into the shower. But is he still wearing his socks? He must be, because he isn't shown taking them off. See more »
Our vagabond camera takes us to beautiful Washington, D.C., the national capital of our United States, situated on the broad banks of the Potomac River. Living is pleasant and leisurely... for it is a city of formality and custom. Manners and courtesy are responsible for the well-ordered conduct of its daily affairs. The many fine restaurants of Washington are the delight of the epicurean and the gourmet, where one may enjoy to the full the rare dishes of the old south. ...
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A brief historic note: On August 5, 1864 a Union fleet commanded by Vice Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, attacked the Confederate Gulf Port of Mobile, Alabama. Farragut had a flock of new monitors in his fleet (although he was aboard his flagship, U.S.S. Hartford), and one of the monitors, the U.S.S. Tecumseh, hit a mine (called a "torpedo" back then) laid by the Confederates. Except for the ship pilot the entire crew of the monitor was lost. There was a wave of uncertainty following this disaster, and the Union ships began seeming to fall apart rather than keeping their lines as planned. Farragut, surveying the disaster from the rigging of his ship, yelled through a megaphone, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" The line became immortal - like John Paul Jones' "I have not begun to fight" or George Dewey's "You may fire when ready Gridley" or Oliver Perry's "We have met the enemy and they are ours." Farragut won the battle, and it remains the greatest naval battle of the American Civil War (outside the "Monitor-Merrimac" duel: see IRONCLADS). The victory happened to be the first good news the North had had in months of stalemated fighting (or worse) in Virginia and Georgia. It was the first of a series of victories that helped change President Abraham Lincoln's certain defeat to reelection victory in November of that year.
I know that it is odd to begin a discussion of a World War II comedy with a brief explanation of a Civil War battle some eighty years earlier, but Farragut's quote is frequently mentioned in the course of THE MORE THE MERRIER - indeed it is sung at one point in an old song by the real star of the picture, Charles Coburn. The song and the quote show his philosophy of life - to get to the heart of the problem and take care of it effectively.
Benjamin Dingle is a millionaire, now doing a "Dollar a Year" job in wartime Washington. There is a housing shortage that Dingle is confronting everywhere, but he finds that there is an advertisement for a roommate that he is determined to grab. It was put into the newspaper by Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) and Dingle lies his way into getting ahead of anyone else into the apartment. When Milligan points out the obvious sexual problem (male/female roommates?) Dingle points out he's too old for her, and he would actually not be as much of a pest as another woman would be (who might try to borrow her clothes). Subsequently Dingle discovers a young engineer named Joe Carter (Joel McCrae) who also was interested in renting part of the apartment. Dingle decides to rent to Carter, without immediately telling Milligan. There is a great moment when (before Dingle has a chance to tell her) Connie and Joe are able to go through the narrow apartment several times just missing each other.
Connie does not mind the problems of renting to two men, as the presence of two men protects her. But she has an understanding with a bureaucrat, Charles Prendergast (Richard Gaines), who is very image conscious and ambitious - so she hopes to keep the renting of the rooms regarding Joe Carter from him. This becomes more and more difficult as time goes by, as she and Joe find they like each other. Dingle notes this and is soon playing matchmaker.
The film was a great comic showcase for Coburn. Charles Coburn had been a successful Broadway actor in the period 1910 - 1930s, frequently appearing with his wife in Shakespearean roles. If one goes to the 42nd St. Public Library's second floor there are two portraits of the younger Coburn and his wife in Shakespearean costumes. Then Mrs. Coburn died. Coburn had been (like his contemporary Sidney Greenstreet) rejecting offers to go to Hollywood. He went to Hollywood in 1938 and soon was appearing in good supporting parts, such as YELLOW JACK (he was Dr. Finley) and as the German cancer specialist in IDIOT'S DELIGHT. The parts got larger as time passed: he is the incestuous uncle after Bette Davis (who subsequently finds he's going to die) in IN THIS OUR LIFE. He is the anti-Semitic family head who loathes Peter Lorre in THE CONSTANT NYMPH. He is the sadistic surgeon who cuts off Ronald Reagan's legs as punishment for sleeping with his daughter in KING'S ROWS.
As you can see, most of Coburn's parts in the late 1930s and early 1940s were dramatic, and they were getting bigger, but his comic gifts were rarely pushed. His performance in Preston Sturgis' THE LADY EVE was an exception. George Stevens, a director who (like Leo McCarey) had a background as a comic director with Laurel & Hardy, decided to use him in the atypical part of Benjamin Dingle. The part was a large one, requiring a good actor. Coburn did well with it and created (like Greenstreet would differently with Caspar Gutman in THE MALTESE FALCON) a persona that remained his to the end. Coburn would be playing the common sensible, straight talking grandfather, uncle, or elderly friend in films until he died - occasionally varying the role with a bit of silliness like in MONKEY BUSINESS. Here it resulted in Coburn's Oscar for best supporting actor. He'd been in Hollywood five years by then, but his real beginning in film was here - and it was a fine beginning.
It was Coburn's second movie comedy with Jean Arthur (the first was THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES), and they certainly play well against each other. Similarly Joel McCrae's comic timing is a sure here with Stevens as it was with Preston Sturges. It's funny how, due to McCrae's long career in westerns, people forget all the screwball comedies he made earlier in his career.
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