Movie review: “The More the Merrier” (1943)

more the merrier

“The More the Merrier” is one of those movies that seems very ordinary until it sneaks up on you and bites you on the butt.

It sounds unremarkable in synopsis: Washington DC working woman Jean Arthur decides (for patriotic reasons) to rent out half her apartment, because there’s a housing shortage. She (reluctantly) ends up with grandfatherly wiseguy Charles Coburn as a roommate. He almost instantly rents half of his half-apartment to handsome young Joel McCrea, who’s doing some kind of mysterious government work.

And, as they say, hijinks ensue.

Unpromising, right? But it’s full of delights.

First of all: Jean Arthur. She’s almost forgotten now, but she was a great comedienne with a voice that was husky and squeaky at the same time, and she had terrific comic timing and a very expressive face.

Second: Charles Coburn. He’s sly and sympathetic, and is obviously plotting to get Joel and Jean together from the very outset. (He won an Academy Award for this performance, by the way.)

Third (and not least): Joel McCrea. You know how I feel about him. He’s not traditionally handsome – his nose is a little pointy – but he’s intensely masculine without being threatening or boorish, and he has the best smile.

Some of my favorite scenes:

–         McCrea and Coburn charge around the apartment making choo-choo-train noises, pretending to keep up with Jean Arthur’s ridiculously precise morning schedule.

–         McCrea and Coburn lie on the roof, on their stomachs, reading the Dick Tracy comic strip from the paper, while Jean Arthur watches them with bemusement. (Coburn reads Tracy; McCrea does the voice of the Leopard Lady.)

–         Jean Arthur, in her room, turns on some Latin dance music, and dances to it, all by herself. (She even turns her head to check out her own butt). In the next room over, Joel McCrea (in bathrobe) slowly begins to do the same step, also all by himself. And in the next room over from that, Charles Coburn does a few steps too.

–         Joel McCrea jumps into the shower, removes his bathrobe (after getting it soaking wet!), and proceeds to slap himself all over and bark like a seal, while Jean Arthur listens in astonishment from her bedroom.

–         An astonishing scene in which Jean Arthur describes her engagement to her “fiancé Mr. Pendergast,” while Joel McCrea makes love to her and kisses her. This scene is hotter than Hades, kids! And this is something Joel McCrea does very well; he did a similar scene in “The Palm Beach Story.” The message he communicates is: “I know you think you love someone else. But I love you, and I know you love me too.” It’s a very powerful message, and he communicates it better than any actor I’ve ever seen.

This is a classic movie. It’s small, but perfect in its way. It reminds me of Jane Austen’s remark about carving her “two inches of ivory.”

“The More the Merrier” is two inches of perfectly carved ivory. And (as Jane reminds us) two inches of perfectly-carved ivory can be very lovely.

Appreciation: Joel McCrea

joel mccrea

Some actors are simply talented: Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Lawrence Olivier. Some are just pretty to look at, like Victor Mature and Tyrone Power.



And some are a combination of the two.



Ladies and gentlemen: allow me to present Joel McCrea.



McCrea was an actor who worked mostly in the 30s and 40s and 50s. He had a nice body and a handsome face with a big kissable nose. He did leading-man work for a while, mostly for Preston Sturges, but he decided (apparently) that he preferred Westerns, which is a shame, because he was especially adorable in non-Westerns.



Three of my favorite movies – “Sullivan’s Travels,” “The Palm Beach Story,” and “The More the Merrier” – star Joel McCrea.



In “Sullivan’s Travels,” he’s a Hollywood director who loses touch with his audience. He goes incognito, ends up becoming an outlaw, and learns how to be a Man of the People.



In “The More the Merrier,” he’s a serviceman waiting to be shipped overseas, living in a New York apartment which he shares with millionaire Charles Coburn and ingénue Jean Arthur. There’s a scene in which Joel and Charles Coburn are up on the roof, lying on their stomachs, reading comics, which is just sublime.



In “The Palm Beach Story,” he’s married to Claudette Colbert, who decides that she could do better (and earn more money for Joel) if she were married to someone else. There’s an adorable scene in this movie in which Joel crushes Claudette in his arms and kisses her neck, and –






Apollonia tells me that a friend of hers saw him shirtless on a beach once, and – well, she nearly passed out.



We need to keep the memory of Joel McCrea alive.



Although, now that I think of it: Channing Tatum is big and cute and youthful and charming and innocent and funny, and . . .



See how Hollywood repeats itself?


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