Jean Arthur in The More the Merrier (1943)


(director: George Stevens; screenwriters: Robert Russell/Frank Ross/Richard Flournoy/Lewis R. Foster; cinematographer: Ted Tetzlaff; editor: Otto Meyer; music: Leigh Harline; cast: Jean Arthur (Connie Milligan), Joel McCrea (Joe Carter), Charles Coburn (Benjamin Dingle), Richard Gaines (Charles J. Pendergast), Bruce Bennett (Evans), Frank Sully (Pike), Don Douglas (Harding), Clyde Fillmore (Senator Noonan), Stanley Clements (Morton Rodakiewicz), Ann Savage (Miss Dalton); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George Stevens; Columbia Pictures; 1943)
“Charming wartime comedy that only veers towards the end into sentimentality.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Stevens (“Penny Serenade”/”The Talk of the Town”/”Shane”) directs with confidence this charming wartime comedy that only veers towards the end into sentimentality. Columbia boss Harry Cohn gave Stevens complete freedom on the pic, as he was anxious to have him stay at Columbia (this was his third and last film he was under contract to do for Columbia). The stars Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn were at the top of their game and worked well together. Coburn won an Oscar for Best Supporting actor, Arthur was nominated for Best Actress. The film was popular with the public and did extremely well at the box office. It was remade in 1966 and retitled Walk, Don’t Run with Cary Grant in the Coburn role, his last film. The remake pales considerably from the original. Its screwball comedy material is based on its being shot during WW2 when there was a serious housing shortage in Washington DC and that single women outnumbered the eligible men eight to one. The story was written by Garson Kanin at the request of Jean Arthur’s husband Frank Ross, a good friend of his fellow writer. Arthur was under suspension at Columbia by Harry Cohn, someone she hated for his ruthlessness, vulgarity and stinginess, for refusing the second-rate scripts he sent her and decided to come up with her own script. Kanin was in the service at the time and short on money, and Arthur promised to pay out of her own pocket if he wrote a pic for her. Cohn liked the script and agreed, but kept Kanin’s name off the credits. Ross was credited as one of the writers along with Robert Russell, Frank Ross, Richard Flournoy and Lewis R. Foster.

Connie Milligan (Jean Milligan) is an uptight single woman working at a low-level entry office job for the government housing authority and living in a spacious apartment in Washington, D. C., and decides for patriotic reasons to rent out space in her apartment. Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) is an elderly retired millionaire who comes to Washington for a conference on the housing shortage that he’s asked to participate in for his hometown senator, but is told that since he came two days early his reserved suite at a luxury hotel cannot be honored until that time. The enterprising Dingle then outhustles all the applicants showing up at Connie’s doorstep to answer her ad in the newspaper for a room by pretending to be the lease holder and dismissing them by saying the room has been rented and then gets Connie to rent him a space even though she wanted a woman boarder. After going dizzy following the highly organized Connie’s ridiculously obsessive morning schedule, of when to use the bathroom, take in the milk and eat breakfast, she goes to work and he’s left home alone. When handsome clean-cut Joe Carter (Joel McCrea), an airplane mechanic from Burbank, California, shows up carrying a propeller and asks to rent space in the apartment, Dingle impulsively rents him half his space. At night when Connie finds Joe, she’s furious but relents when Dingle sweet talks her into accepting the innocent arrangement. Though Connie has been engaged the past 22 months to a housing bureaucrat chief named Charles J. Pendergast (Richard Gaines), Dingle acts as a meddlesome matchmaker trying to bring Connie and Joe together any way he could–which becomes the mainstay of the comedy in how he eventually brings them together in marriage before Joe ships out as a sergeant to Africa.

The fun is watching the trio operate together and trying to get along with each other though feeling uncomfortable in their tight quarters. There’s a very funny scene of them sunbathing on the rooftop and the boys reading the Dick Tracy comic strip, and the romantic scenes when Joe walks Connie home from dancing and they neck on the stoop of her house and later their bedtime conversation with only a thin wall separating the two beds onscreen.

Overall the film worked very well as both a farce and as melodrama, as the comical complications over wartime conditions and personal romantic affairs keep the film sparkling despite a few missteps into mush and too much burlesque.