The American Dream is an interesting beast.
Synonymous with the American drive and work ethic, over the last handful of decades, the dream has become something of an aged dinosaur of ideology. With an economy that seems truly hell bent on destroying any hopes and wishes anyone has of a life above their means, unemployment is high, student loans for new workforce members are higher, and pay rates aren’t following suit. However, this isn’t a new concept.
One can look directly at the 1948 film, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, as one of the most scathing meditations on the American Dream and its systematic death by those who once strove for it that we’ve seen before or since.
Based on the Eric Hodgins novel of the same name (and itself the inspiration for films like The Money Pit and Are We Done Yet, both of which don’t come close to this film’s greatness), the Cary Grant and Myrna Loy-starring picture follows a man named Jim Blandings as he and his family attempt to build the house they’ve always dreamed of. With the purchase of a home, they attempt to fix it up, only to discover that the dream they’ve worked towards all their life may be more of a wallet busting nightmare.
Directed by H. C. Potter, the film, as a comedy, is rather standard. Loy and Grant are superb here as your run of the mill comedy duo. Eyed by producer David O. Selznick as an almost Thin Man-esque series starter for the pair, this film itself plays as a deeply intriguing follow-up of sorts to the equally entertaining Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer, a much slighter but just as charming a filmic comedy. Grant was born, dimpled chin and all, to play this well off but melancholic ad man and he plays perfectly with Loy, an actress who doesn’t have as large a following as she frankly should today. Melvyn Douglas tags along here as a family friend, and the three have a great chemistry together, making this a deeply entertaining, if ultimately standard, comedy.
Made during the prime of Grant’s career (following his career-changing meeting with Alfred Hitchcock, a man who would ultimately prove to find a muse in Grant’s athletic frame and Grant in Hitch’s darkly comic eye), this is one of the most interesting uses of Grant’s kinetic charm and acting ability. Epitomized by a deeply angry and angst-ridden speech given near the film’s conclusion, Grant’s feisty disposition gives way for potent screeds against the American Dream of its era. Truly one of Grant’s best moments, he proves that he was truly more of an everyman thespian than his physically perfect exterior would have you believe. Always holding, within the very DNA of his performances, a feeling of wanting to burst out of his suit in an energetic fit, when Grant is allowed to have his reins loosened, as he does in this one sequence, it becomes the equivalent of the very celluloid its being shot on bursting into flames. It’s a speech to behold, and this is one of Grant’s most undervalued performances. The film is hilarious. This speech is not.
Overall, while the picture itself is very much an above average comedy, the picture thrives as a scathing and deeply irritated look at the death of The American Dream, or its transformation into more of a conspiracy than a fair concept that one could reach with the right amount of hard work. With only a handful of DVD releases (throughout various Cary Grant box sets, most of which are of the same transfer), the film could very much stand to get a solid Blu-ray upgrade, as its black and white photography is really quite gorgeous. Also, one could do worse than have more Grant and Loy pictures in HD. Especially pictures as strong and thought provoking as this superb comedy.