April 19, 2015

Jean Arthur, The More the Merrier

as CONNIE MILLIGAN
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The Role: as a woman who sublets her apartment to two men during the WWII housing shortage, I was initially a little perplexed as to how Jean Arthur managed to snag herself her sole nomination for a role that on paper didn't seem very striking. And besides, The More the Merrier isn't exactly the most renown flick out of Arthur's filmography. I've now watched Arthur in a number of Capra flicks, and I hadn't really thought her to be particularly arresting or awful--always somewhere in between.

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 photo Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 4.25.03 PM.jpgThe Performance: What I forgot however, was that I'm a sucker for old-school comedies. What I didn't know about Arthur was that she's an expert comedienne. All those thankless supporting roles in those Capra flicks never did Arthur any good, and never really demonstrated any of her talents to me. I forget that the comedies of the Golden Age of Hollywood were much more thoughtful, more fleshed out and less contrived than the comedies we're fed today. And The More the Merrier is no different--it's a solid picture which boasts a simple but lovable performance by Arthur. In her early 40s at the time this film was made, Arthur is every bit as youthfully exuberant here, tackling all the comedic subtleties of the film superbly. Like her great comedic contemporaries, Arthur can summon chuckles by the simplest of facial reactions. It's the silliness of the film and the scenarios and the ways in which Arthur handles them that I found most impressive. It goes without saying that she's hilarious in all the crazy moments the script feeds her towards the end of the film, and what's more, she provides Connie with loads of unspoken magnitude in her more quieter moments--the way Arthur operates Connie's reaction to Dingle's invasion of her privacy, the way she lustily responds to Joel McCrea outside her apartment building--are all shades of an adroit actress who can make a seemingly paper-thin character (lady who rents out her apartment) into something interesting and of worth (lady who rents out her apartment but is afflicted with loneliness and self-doubt).  It's not the most powerful performance I've seen out of 1943, and it's not quite the greatest comedic performance I've ever seen, but it's a wonderfully light and joyous watch, and a great display that makes this actress' sole nomination a worthwhile one.

6 comments:

  1. I really need to give this performance another chance, I remember I was quite underwhelmed by her, but I've watched Foreign Affair recently and she's a great comedienne indeed.

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    1. I really liked her! A lot of light-hearted fun, and I'm a sucker for old-Hollywood comedic performances, so I'm not surprised that I liked her.

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  2. Agreed. This was on TCM not two months ago, while I was out here doing other things on the PC, and I caught all of it, and was surprised what an enjoyable film it was. Joel McCrea is very easy on the eyes and the spirit, Coburn's well-meaning codger just as likeable and Jean at the center and wonderful. Yeah, four statues.

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  3. Saw 20 minutes of this a decade ago, then gave up since it looked bad to me. :)

    surprisingly, plenty of love here.

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    1. I think it's great! Mostly I found it charming, didn't see anything wrong with the first 20 minutes. you might want to give it a chance :)

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