The More the Merrier (1943) is an American romantic comedy directed by George Stevens and starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn. This was director Steven’s last feature film before he joined the Army as chief of the combat photographic unit. It was also the last comedy he ever directed.
|Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn, and Joel McCrea|
The housing shortage in Washington D. C. during World War II brings Connie Milligan (Arthur) an engaged-to-be-married young woman, Sergeant Joe Carter (McCrea), and Benjamin Dingle a retired millionaire (Coburn) together in Connie’s apartment. Connie reluctantly rented a room in her apartment to Dingle, only to have him sublet it to Joe. Connie is very organized and businesslike in the way she starts her day, much to the dismay of Joe and Dingle who never seem to be on schedule.
|Eight women to every man|
Connie and Joe are both attracted to each other from the start, but Connie tries to ignore her feelings and remind herself that she’s engaged to Charles J. Pendergast (Richard Gaines), a Washington bureaucrat. Will Connie choose security with Pendergast or the uncertainty of life with Sergeant Joe Carter?
The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called the film “as warm and refreshing a ray of sunshine as we’ve had in a very late spring.”
George Stevens (1904 – 1975) was an American film director and producer. He was nominated for five Best Director Academy Awards, winning one for Giant (1956). Stevens got his start in the movies as a cameraman working on many Laurel and Hardy films. Stevens directed many of the top stars of Hollywood’s Golden age including Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Ronald Colman, Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard, Fed Astaire, Joel McCrea, Alan Ladd, Spencer Tracy, and Elizabeth Taylor. Other popular films directed by Stevens include Annie Oakley (1935), Gunga Din (1939), Woman of the Year (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), I Remember Mama (1948), Shane (1953), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).
Jean Arthur (1900 – 1991) was an American stage and film actress whose career spanned three decades. Arthur got her start in silent films but became a major star with the advent of sound. Her unique speaking voice made her a natural for comedy. She came to prominence having major roles in a series of films directed by Frank Capra: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take it With You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Other popular films Arthur starred in included Only Angels Have Wings (1939), The Talk of the Town (1942), The More the Merrier (1943). For her work in The More the Merrier, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress; it was her only Academy Award nomination. Arthur’s last film role was in the western classic Shane (1953). After retiring from acting, she taught drama at Vassar College where one of her students was Meryl Streep.
|McCrea and Arthur|
Joel McCrea (1905 – 1990) was an American movie star who appeared in over 100 films. During his almost-five-decades career, McCrea worked with some of the top directors in Hollywood including Alfred Hitchcock (Foreign Correspondent 1940), Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels 1941, The Palm Beach Story 1942), and George Stevens (The More the Merrier 1943). McCrea worked opposite some of the top leading actresses of the day including Miriam Hopkins, Irene Dunne, Veronica Lake, Claudette Colbert, and Barbara Stanwyck with whom he made six films. He was the first actor to play Dr. Kildare in the film Internes Can’t Take Money (1937) costarring Stanwyck. McCrea married actress Frances Dee in 1933. The two were married until McCrea’s death in 1990.
Charles Coburn (1877 – 1961) was an Academy-Award-winning character actor. Coburn was one of the most popular character actors in film during the 1940s. He was nominated for three Best Support Actor Academy Awards for The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), for The More the Merrier (1943)—won, and The Green Years (1946). Other classic films featuring Coburn include The Lady Eve (1941), Kings Row (1942), The Constant Nymph (1943), Monkey Business (1952), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).
The More the Merrier trivia:
- It was the last picture under a three-picture deal that Stevens had with Columbia Studios; the other two were Penny Serenade (1941) and The Talk of the Town (1942).
- The film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director; Coburn won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
- Jean Arthur was on the outs with Columbia Pictures for turning down roles. To placate the studio, she paid Garson Kanin to write something for her, paying him out of her own pocket.
- Joel McCrea originally didn’t think he was right for the film and suggested Cary Grant for the lead; ironically, Grant starred in the remake, Walk, Don’t Run (1966) in the Charles Coburn role.
To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.
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Questions for discussion:
- Many critics consider the film one of the best romantic comedies of all time. What’s your opinion?
- How does Jean Arthur’s performance in Too Many Husbands compare with her performance in The More the Merrier?
- Why do you think Joel McCrea thought he wasn’t right for the role?
- Did the film remind you of any other romantic comedies?
- The scene on the stoop with Arthur and McCrea is considered a classic. Do you agree?