The More the Merrier Reviews
I believe that the element that stitched this movie together so perfectly was the actors in it. There is nothing extraordinary about the filming style or the themes, its your simple romantic comedy, so I'll stick to the acting. Nobody but McCrae could fall in love with Arthur in less than a week and nobody but Coburn could convince McCrae that he pursue after Arthur as well as poke Arthur into being romanced by McCrae. Coburn, he was the magic of the movie, all applause is due him. "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" He's a cupid without a bow and wings so his words and slapstick timing are the fuel to put in motion this zany but sweet story of a fully crowded apartment and the lovebirds inside.
We'll get to the plot in a minute; the plot is a surprising one, given when this movie was made, but at least it's expressly completely innocent, and there's a chaperone present pretty much the whole time the two young characters are sharing an apartment. However, the thing which I'm surprised Joe Breen let past is the most famous quote of Admiral David Farragut, spoken at the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. The bay had been mined by the Confederates, and one of his officers expressed concern that they would be entering an area full of what were then known as torpedoes. "Damn the torpedoes," Farragut is supposed to have said, "full speed ahead." And they quote that line so often in this movie that I think its current rating would probably be PG or higher, much less getting past the Code restrictions at all. Maybe Breen wouldn't have kicked up a fuss over a biopic, but they sing it in a cheerful little song at the end of this!
It is World War II Washington, DC. Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) is in town on business, and so is everyone else. The housing crisis is so acute that the paper seems to only have one room listed for rent; it's a person looking for a roommate, and when Dingle gets there, a dozen or more people are already lined up outside. He tricks them into thinking that the room is taken, then persuades Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) into letting him rent it even though she'd planned to limit the choices to other women. And then the next day, Joe Carter (Joel McCrea)comes looking for a place, and Dingle sublets his sublet, renting Joe half his room. Without mentioning anything to Connie, of course. Connie, too, is engaged to one Charles J. Pendergast (Richard Gaines), who is in charge of the housing situation in the city. You don't have to have seen a lot of romantic comedies to assume that she will not still be engaged to Mr. Pendergast at the end of the picture.
I read recently that Eleanor Roosevelt thought that the housing situation was an important part of wartime preparedness and that nobody much agreed with her. She thought it was important that factory workers have access to proper housing, in no small part because she thought there was no point in fighting for democracy abroad if you weren't taking care of it at home. She thought letting defense workers live in slums was a bad idea. In fact, quite a lot of people lived in the White House because it was easier than finding their own housing; when Winston Churchill came for a visit, they crowded his whole delegation in as well. (I also learned that, when Dingle mentions that the food at the White House is terrible, he isn't wrong.) Of course, not everyone in Washington needed to be there. Still, it's not as though you can limit access to the city to people who have business with the government, and even if you had, there were too many of those for the available housing. That was true in a lot of places.
It's worth noting that Mr. Pendergast isn't totally odious. He's kind of bland. He's very stuffy. He's probably paying more attention to the pressure put on him by big business than really worrying about the needs of people. However, he's not all that bad. Nowhere near as bad as the significant others to be shed in most romantic comedies. He's all wrong for Connie, of course, but that goes without saying. It also feels a bit as though she has suppressed certain of her impulses to be the kind of woman that he would accept as Mrs. Pendergast. Dingle and Joe are reading [i]Dick Tracy[/i] aloud together, and even though they are very amusing, Connie lectures them for their childishness. She has considerably more right to be angry at them for reading her diary, but either way, she's clearly trying to stand on her dignity at least in part because she's afraid that Mr. Pendergast won't marry her if he realizes that she has a silly streak.
During World War II, huge amounts of the culture revolved around the war itself. Probably more so than just about any other era in US history. Yes, there was a certain amount of escapism, but even some of the escapism involved the war. Bugs Bunny gamboling in the Black Forest, for example. And, yes, there's this. Joe is going off to war in just a few days; in any other time, he would just find a hotel room, but he ends up rooming with Connie because there are no hotel rooms left in Washington. There are a dozen guys camped out in the vestibule of the apartment building, and Joe was, after all, willing to pay $6 a week to rent half a bedroom. Joe and Connie were thrown together by the war, and they are destined to be separated by it. Essentially, this is just a few days of joy grabbed together as they have them. It seems Dingle is the only one who really internalizes that, but he's also the one old enough to remember World War I. He's probably seen this before, as had quite a lot of the audience. It's still possible to hope for them.