|The More the Merrier|
|Directed by||George Stevens|
|Produced by||George Stevens|
|Screenplay by||Richard Flournoy|
Lewis R. Foster
Robert W. Russell
|Based on||Two's a Crowd|
by Garson Kanin
|Music by||Leigh Harline|
|Edited by||Otto Meyer|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$1.8 million (US rentals)|
The More the Merrier is a 1943 American comedy film made by Columbia Pictures which makes fun of the housing shortage during World War II, especially in Washington, D.C. The picture stars Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn. The movie was directed by George Stevens. The film was written by Richard Flournoy, Lewis R. Foster, Frank Ross,[Note 1] and Robert Russell, from "Two's a Crowd", an original story by Garson Kanin (uncredited).
Retired millionaire Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) arrives in Washington, D.C. as an adviser on the housing shortage and finds that his hotel suite will not be available for two days. He sees an ad for a roommate and talks the reluctant young woman, Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur), into letting him sublet half of her apartment. Then Dingle runs into Sergeant Joe Carter (Joel McCrea), who has no place to stay while he waits to be shipped overseas. Dingle generously rents him half of his half.
When Connie finds out about the new arrangement, she orders them both to leave, but she is forced to relent because she has already spent the men's rent. Joe and Connie are attracted to each other, though she is engaged to bureaucrat Charles J. Pendergast (Richard Gaines). (Connie's mother married for love, not security, and Connie is determined not to repeat her mistake). Dingle happens to meet Pendergast at a business luncheon and does not like what he sees. He decides that Joe would be a better match for his landlady.
One day, Dingle goes too far, reading aloud to Joe from Connie's private diary, including her thoughts about Joe. When she finds out, she demands they both leave the next day. Dingle takes full blame for the incident. Connie allows Joe to remain in the apartment as he has only a few days before being shipped out to Africa. Joe asks Connie to go out with him. She is reluctant to do so, but decides to go if Pendergast does not call for her by 8. At 8, she and Joe are ready to leave, but her noisy teenage neighbor seeks her advice and delays her until Pendergast arrives. Joe spies on the two of them from the window. When the young neighbor asks what he is doing, Joe flippantly tells him he is a Japanese spy.
Dingle calls Joe to meet him for dinner. There, Dingle bumps into the couple (Pendergast and Connie) and pretends he is meeting Connie for the first time, forcing Joe to do the same. Dingle engages Pendergast in talk about his work, eventually maneuvering him up to his room so that Connie and Joe can be alone together.
Joe takes Connie home. The two talk about their romantic pasts and even kiss. From their separate rooms, Joe confesses that he loves her. She tells him she feels the same way, but refuses to marry him, as they will soon be forced apart when he leaves for Africa. Their talk is interrupted by the arrival of the FBI, who have been called to investigate Joe for spying, thanks to the young neighbor. Joe and Connie are taken to FBI headquarters. They identify Dingle as a fellow occupant who can testify that they are only roommates. Dingle arrives, bringing Pendergast as a character witness. It comes out during questioning that Joe and Connie live at the same address. When they ask Mr. Dingle to tell Pendergast that their living arrangement is purely innocent, he denies knowing them.
Outside the station, Dingle says he lied to protect his reputation. Taking a taxi home, they discuss what to do to avoid a scandal. Connie grows angry when Pendergast thinks only of himself. When another passenger in the shared cab turns out to be a reporter, Pendergast runs after him to try to stop him from writing about the cohabiting situation. Dingle assures Connie that if she marries Joe, the crisis will be averted, and they can get a quick annulment afterwards. The couple follow his advice and wed. Returning home, Connie allows Joe to spend his final night in her apartment. As Dingle had foreseen, Connie's attraction to Joe overcomes her prudence; the intimacy is facilitated by the fact that the wall separating Connie's and Joe's bedrooms has vanished, presumably thanks to Dingle. Outside, Dingle puts up a card, showing that the apartment belongs to Sgt. and Mrs. Carter.
As appearing in The More the Merrier, (main roles and screen credits identified):
- Jean Arthur as Constance Milligan
- Joel McCrea as Joe Carter
- Charles Coburn as Benjamin Dingle
- Richard Gaines as Charles J. Pendergast
- Stanley Clements as Morton Rodakiewicz
- Bruce Bennett as FBI Agent Evans
- Frank Sully as FBI Agent Pike
- Don Douglas as FBI Agent Hardy
- Clyde Fillmore as Senator Noonan
- Henry Roquemore as Washington Sun reporter (uncredited)
- Grady Sutton as diner server (uncredited)
With the original working title, Merry-Go-Round, principal photography took place for the film, from September 11 to December 19, 1942, with additional "inserts" filmed in late January 1943. Working under a special three-film contract with Columbia Studios, George Stevens completed the last of directorial duties with The More the Merrier. The other two films were Penny Serenade (1941) and The Talk of the Town (1942).
Under fire at Columbia for turning down too many projects, Jean Arthur and her husband Frank Ross invited a friend, Garson Kanin, to create a vehicle for Arthur, and they paid him out of their own pocket. Kanin's "Two's a Crowd", with Robert W. Russell co-writing, received Harry Cohn's go-ahead. Other titles considered included "Washington Story", "Full Steam Ahead", "Come One, Come All" and "Merry-Go-Round", which actually tested best with audiences. Washington officials objected to the title and plot elements that suggested "frivolity on the part of Washington workers". The More the Merrier was finally approved as the title.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times enjoyed The More the Merrier, calling the film "as warm and refreshing a ray of sunshine as we've had in a very late spring". He praised all three leads, the writers, and the director, singling out Coburn as "the comical crux of the film" who "handles the job in fine fettle". Variety called it "a sparkling and effervescing piece of entertainment." Harrison's Reports wrote, "Excellent entertainment! George Stevens' masterful direction, and the fine acting of Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn, make this one of the brightest and gayest comedies to have come out of Hollywood in many a season." David Lardner of The New Yorker wrote, "As is the case with a lot of madcap comedies, this one tends to fall part somewhat toward the end, when all the accumulated mixups are supposed to be resolved without a complete sacrifice of logic but by no means are. As long as these mixups are purely being established, however, and nobody's worrying about clearing them up, everything is fine."
TV Guide characterizes it as "a delightful and effervescent comedy marked with terrific performances" and praises Coburn as "nothing short of superb, stealing scene after scene with astonishing ease".Time Out Film Guide notes, "Despite a belated drift towards sentimentality, this remains a refreshingly intimate movie."
Coburn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor while Arthur was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Other nominations included Best Director, Best Picture, Best Writing, Original Story and Best Writing, Screenplay.
This film is available on Region 1 (USA/Canada).
- Frank Ross was Jean Arthur's husband at the time.
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