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GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE (director: William Keighley; screenwriters: from the play by Moss Hart & George Kaufman/Everett Freeman; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editor: Ralph Dawson; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Jack Benny (Bill Fuller), Ann Sheridan (Connie Fuller), Charles Coburn (Uncle Stanley J. Menninger), Percy Kilbride (Mr. ‘Kimbie’ Kimber, the Handyman), Hattie McDaniel (Hester, the Fullers’ Maid), William Tracy (Steve Eldridge), Joyce Reynolds (Madge), Lee Patrick (Rena Leslie), Charles Dingle (Mr. Prescott), John Emery (Clayton Evans), Douglas Croft (Raymond), Harvey Stephens (Jeff Douglas), Franklin Pangborn (Mr. Gibney); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jerry Wald; Warner Brothers; 1942)
“Considering the fine cast and pedigree of the playwrights, this slapstick comedy is a let down.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

William Keighley directs a family comedy that is based on the Broadway play by Moss Hart and George Kaufman. Considering the fine cast and pedigree of the playwrights, this slapstick comedy is a let down. It lacks wit, sophistication and fluidity. The dramatics seemed stiff, and though Jack Benny has earned his stripes at the time on the radio and on the stage, movies for him were not a good fit. Benny’s pratfalls were clumsily orchestrated and his dialogue was unimpressive, as he seemed to be in need of a live audience. In his best line, Benny asks co-star Ann Sheridan, who never looked more radiant, “Why do I want to drive in the country for, it’s full of insects!” The screenplay was handled by Everett Freeman, who did some minor tinkering–mainly changing the location of the featured old house from its original upstate New York locale.

Manhattan dwellers Bill and Connie Fuller (Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan) are forced to leave their comfortable apartment because of their frisky small dog bothering the landlord (Franklin Pangborn). Connie, an avid antique collector, surprises Bill by purchasing on her own a dilapidated Colonial-era farmhouse in Connecticut, a house George Washington was rumored to have slept in before going onto Valley Forge. Moving to the country with the Fullers is their always fussing and huffing housekeeper Hester (Hattie McDaniel) and Connie’s man crazy 17-year-old sister Madge (Joyce Reynolds). The Fullers hire laconic hayseed caretaker Mr. Kimber (Percy Kilbride) to help, and he tells them they have no water because the well ran dry eight years ago. Their unfriendly neighbor Mr. Prescott (Charles Dingle) won’t let them use his well and won’t let them use the road that leads to their house because he owns the right-of-way. Bill hates the country and is further disillusioned by the thousand things that are wrong with the house (the source of all the film’s humor) and the rising cost of fixing it up that is much more than was at first anticipated. Friendly neighbor Jeff Douglas (Harvey Stephens), a history buff and antique store owner, helps them locate an original map that shows their land possesses both Prescott’s road and his well. The Fullers feel they are now home free, but soon learn that they are about to lose the house, after months of getting it into shape, because they can’t pay the $5,000 mortgage due. They believe their only hope is to ask their visiting Uncle Stanley J. Menninger (Charles Coburn), a wealthy industrialist, for the money, but are shocked to learn he’s nothing but a fraud who went broke after the 1929 stock market crash and has been fooling all his relatives since to get free places to stay where he’s treated like royalty so that they will be in his will.

It ends on a warm but predictable note. Benny, Coburn and Sheridan are all pleasant but their comedy antics are somewhat dated. It’s a slight variation on Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, but that film had Cary Grant and Myrna Loy to give it a more solid foundation.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”