[box cover]

The More the Merrier

When there's a war on, sacrifices must be made. For Constance Milligan (Jean Arthur), such means renting out half of her Washington, D.C., apartment, where a housing shortage exacerbated by the war effort has left hundreds of folks in a near-homeless state. Of course, being a proper, engaged woman, Connie only wants to sub-let her home to another woman — but when elderly D.C. bureaucrat Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) winds up on her steps, he simply won't take no for an answer. Before long, the two wind up sharing close quarters; matters aren't helped by the fact that Connie runs her home with more punctuality than a military installation, forcing the carefree Dingle to keep up as best he can. To make things more complicated, U.S. Army Sgt. Joe Carter (Joel McCrea) arrives at Connie's home, also looking for a room. It's the room she's already let to Dingle, but the older man sees no reason to be inhospitable and rents half of his half to the clean-cut gentleman. As far as Connie's concerned, three's not just a crowd, it's a scandal waiting to happen — particularly since she's engaged to marry Charles J. Pendegrast (Richard Gaines), a high-ranking government official. But Dingle sees nothing in Pendegrast. Instead, he believes that Connie and Joe belong together, and the old man makes up his mind that he should play matchmaker. The More the Merrier (1943) isn't the first time George Stevens has explored life in close quarters — in fact, just one year previous the director delivered one of his finest works, The Talk of the Town (1942), which found Jean Arthur living with a leftist Cary Grant and Supreme Court nominee Ronald Colman. That film used the awkward, often comic domestic circumstances to explore not just human relationships, but also deeper questions of civil rights and proper jurisprudence, making it a picture that defies genre-labels to this day. If The More the Merrier is a bookend of sorts, it can easily be regarded as something quite lighter — and also as one of Stevens' few forays into spirited screwball comedy. Jean Arthur returns once again as the put-upon woman forced to live with two difficult, headstrong men, but Stevens' goal is to entertain far more than to elucidate on any particular topic. He clearly delights in the comedy, dedicating a generous amount of time to simply explore the amusing nature of the home's morning schedule, as Connie accidentally locks Dingle out of the house, or when Dingle and Joe purposefully mock her mysterious fiancé over breakfast. All three stars are delightful, with Jean Arthur showing why she was one of the era's most reliable leading women, Joel McCrea as a square-jawed leading man with a deeply cynical nature, and the wonderful Charles Coburn presiding over it all. Among the most wonderful moments are bits of dialogue, particularly the banter when Dingle and Joe first meet. The script is credited to four writers, but an uncredited Garson Canin certainly made his contributions as well. Remade as Walk Don't Run (1966). Columbia TriStar's DVD release of The More the Merrier offers a good full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a source-print that is pleasant, although several moments suggest it should be a candidate for restoration, while the monaural audio (DD 2.0) is crisp and clear. Previews for other Columbia titles, keep-case.

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