For an era that depicted married couples cohabiting in separate beds, old Hollywood sure did have some fun with unconventional sleeping arrangements. Think Clark Gable hanging a blanket between his bed and Claudette Colbert's in It Happened One Night. Or Some Like It Hot's Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, on the lam, dolled up in drag, and hiding out in the women's section of a sleeper train, Marilyn Monroe tantalizingly just a bunk away. For its part, The More the Merrier makes hay of Washington, D.C.'s, housing shortage during World War II to maneuver Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea into sharing a wall.
Released in 1943, this was director George Stevens' last film before he headed overseas for wartime work in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and the war is coded into The More the Merrier's DNA. To do her part for the war effort, government worker Connie (Arthur) puts her spare room up for rent. She would prefer a female roomie but reluctantly lets half her apartment to an avuncular, 60ish-year-old businessman named Dingle (played winkingly by Charles Coburn, who won an Oscar for the part). The problem arises when Dingle then lets half of his half to an enlisted man named Joe (McCrea), shipping out soon for a secret mission in Africa. Connie knows quite well that her bureaucrat boyfriend won't be happy to hear of the comely soldier sharing a roof with his gal, so she keeps Joe a secret. Want to guess how long she gets away with that?
The More the Merrier's conclusions are foregone; the fun is in the getting there. Arthur gets to play a lot of notes here – prim and proper, wily, faux-outraged, genuinely outraged, and blissed out in love – while McCrea complicates his hypermasculine persona with an essential peevishness that, paradoxically, makes him even sexier. Yes, sexy: There is a courtship scene here that isn't medically advisable for anyone with a heart condition. Joe walks Connie home after a date, where they sit on her front stoop and try not to swallow each other whole; they're so thunderstruck with longing, they're practically stoned on it. Connie, a good girl, finally tears herself away to say goodnight. Then the jolt of remembering: They're sharing the same apartment. And the jolt of realization: Oh boy, are they in trouble – the best kind of trouble.
The More the Merrier screens @AFS Cinema, 6406 N. I-35 #3100, on Thu., Aug, 29, 7pm & Sat., Aug. 31, 3pm.
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