The More The Merrier (1943)


Introduction

The More the Merrier, a 1943 American comedy film made by Columbia Pictures, makes fun of the housing shortage during World War II, especially in Washington, D.C.

Outline

Retired millionaire Benjamin Dingle 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, into letting him sublet half of her apartment. Then Dingle runs into Sergeant Joe Carter, 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. 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 to dinner with him. She is reluctant to do so, but decides to go if Pendergast does not call for her by 8:00 that evening. At 8:00, she and Joe are ready to leave, but her nosy teenage neighbor seeks her advice and delays her until Pendergast arrives. Joe spies on the two of them from the window. When the young neighbour 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 manoeuvring him up to his hotel 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 neighbour. Joe and Connie are taken to FBI headquarters. They identify Dingle as a fellow apartment 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 after flying to South Carolina, where a license can be more quickly obtained than in DC. 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 on the apartment door, showing that it belongs to Sergeant and Mrs. Carter.

Cast

  • Jean Arthur as Constance Milligan.
  • Joel McCrea as Joe Carter.
  • Charles Coburn as Benjamin Dingle.
  • Richard Gaines as Charles J. Pendergast.
  • Bruce Bennett as FBI Agent Evans.
  • Frank Sully as FBI Agent Pike.
  • Donald Douglas as FBI Agent Hardy (as Don Douglas).
  • Clyde Fillmore as Senator Noonan.
  • Stanley Clements as Morton Rodakiewicz.
  • Henry Roquemore as Washington Sun reporter (uncredited).
  • Grady Sutton as diner server (uncredited).

Production

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’s friend, Garson Kanin offered to write a screenplay – for $25,000 – that they could pitch to studio boss Harry Cohn as a free vehicle for Arthur, which might placate Cohn. Kanin’s “Two’s a Crowd”, with Robert W. Russell co-writing, received 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.

Release

Awards

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 (although Kanin is not credited) and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Trivia

  • The film script – from “Two’s a Crowd”, an original screenplay by Garson Kanin (uncredited) – was written by Richard Flournoy, Lewis R. Foster, Frank Ross and Robert Russell.
  • This film was remade in 1966 as Walk, Don’t Run starring Cary Grant, Samantha Eggar and Jim Hutton.
    • The setting was changed to Tokyo which had experienced housing shortages due to the 1964 Summer Olympics.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • George Stevens.
  • Producer(s):
    • Fred Guiol … associate producer.
    • George Stevens … producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • Robert Russell … (screenplay).
    • Frank Ross … (screenplay).
    • Richard Flournoy … (screenplay).
    • Lewis R. Foster … (screenplay).
    • Robert Russell … (story).
    • Frank Ross … (story).
    • Garson Kanin … (contributor to story) (uncredited).
  • Music:
    • Leigh Harline.
  • Cinematography:
    • Ted Tetzlaff … director of photography.
  • Editor(s):
    • Otto Meyer … film editor.
  • Production:
    • Columbia Pictures (as Columbia Pictures Corporation).
  • Distributor(s):
    • Columbia Pictures (1943) (USA) (theatrical) (as Columbia Pictures Corporation).
    • Columbia Pictures of Canada (1943) (Canada) (theatrical).
    • Columbia Pictures Corporation (1943) (UK) (theatrical).
    • Columbia Pictures Proprietary (1943) (Australia) (theatrical).
    • Columbia Films S. A. (1943) (Mexico) (theatrical).
    • Columbia Pictures (1949) (USA) (theatrical) (re-release).
    • Screen Gems (1956) (USA) (TV).
    • RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video (1990) (USA) (VHS).
    • RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video (1991) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
    • RCA/Columbia-Hoyts Home Video (1991) (Australia) (video).
    • Columbia TriStar Home Video (1995) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
    • Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2004) (USA) (DVD).
  • Release Date: 13 may 1943.
  • Rating: U.
  • Running Time: 104 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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