Before This Old House became a mainstay on public TV and before Home Depot turned home improvement into a national pastime, Cary Grant and Myrna Loy offered America a glimpse of the madness to come. In Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a jaunty little 1948 comedy newly out on DVD, dreaming big (and way beyond your means) is shown to be a timeless American trait.
Jim Blandings (Grant) is living the postwar dream: apartment in Manhattan, advertising job in which his year's work is coining a single slogan. With two growing daughters, however, the wide-open spaces of rustic Connecticut beckon, and that's when the dream becomes a nightmare. The old place the couple buys turns out to be falling apart and it has to come down; a well isn't so easy to dig; and a visit to the architect quickly becomes a budget-buster. Mrs. Blandings offers her touches sounding like Martha Stewart. Her choices of paint colors are hilariously specific: "The kitchen's to be white. Not a cold, antiseptic, hospital white. A little warmer, but still not to suggest any other color but white," she tells the bemused painters.
This film's a classic as it captures a moment in time -- expansive postwar America. And it turns out that nest-building impulse would characterize the decades to come, up to the present day and our cozy, 4,000-square-foot starter homes. But that would add up to nothing more than a curious footnote to Hollywood history if not for the stellar cast. Cary Grant is really funny here and thrives in the role of the put-upon husband who never gets his way. Myrna Loy offers up a subversive take on the Leave It To Beaver mom of a few years later; she lets her husband think he's the king of the castle while she secretly adds on a room for flower-arranging. Melvyn Douglas plays Jim's best friend, but he's got a secret history with Mrs. Blandings that adds to Mr. Blandings' headaches. And his daughters are challengingly precocious.
There aren't a lot of extras here -- a cartoon about the house of the future, and two audio tracks of old radio versions of the film, with Grant in the lead. But the star of this package is the crisp new black-and-white print. So before you pick up that hammer for your own project, pay a visit to the Blandings' dream house.