When I was growing up, my mom and I used to watch old movies together on Saturday afternoons, and we loved anything with Cary Grant in it. One of my favorites was Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, so today I’m going back and taking another look at it.
The story starts in New York City, where the Blandings live with their children in a small apartment:
Feeling cramped in the city, they go looking for a bigger place in the country.
Jim Blandings earns a good living as an advertising exec, we’re told — $15,000 a year! I ran across an old review of the film from when it came out in 1948 that said, “It’s hard to feel sorry for a man trying to make ends meet on $15,000 a year when most people earn considerably less.”
This is the first place they see, known to the locals as the old Hackett place:
The real estate agent knows a couple of suckers when he sees them. He tells them a story about how the house is an historical landmark because General Gates stopped to water his horses here during the Revolutionary War.
This is how Mrs. Blandings imagines fixing it up:
And how Mr. Blandings envisions it:
Their imaginations are so good that they buy the old Hackett place, only to discover that it’s a tear-down. It can’t be saved.
They decide to build on the land instead, but the plans from the architect end up being much more than expected. The new house, he says, will cost $12,500 to build. Jim and Muriel are in shock. How could it possibly cost that much? They already spent $13,000 just on the lot and tearing down the old house.
The architect shows them the rendering of how it will look when it’s finished and the music swells. The Blandings decide to bite the bullet and build it despite the soaring costs.
A real house was built for the film. According to CaryGrant.net:
In 1948, RKO Studios needed a rural setting in which to film exteriors for their comedy “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” Their neighboring studio, 20th Century Fox, had 2,000 acres of dramatic landscape in the Malibu hills that served as their location ranch, so a deal was made and construction began.
Despite all of the problems, the headaches, the mixups, and the soaring costs, the house is finished and moving day finally arrives:
Jim carries Muriel (played by Myrna Loy) over the threshold:
And right across the wet varnish on the hardwood floors.
“Oh, Daddy! Look at this!” The windows on the side of the house aren’t in yet, so it’s gonna be a chilly night in the new house. . .
One of my favorite scenes is when Mrs. Blandings gives instructions to the painter on moving day, patiently explaining:
“First, the living room. I want it to be a soft green. Not as blue-green as a robin’s egg, but not as yellow-green as daffodils. Now, the dining room. Not just yellow–something bright and sunshiny. If you send one of your workers to the grocer for a pound of butter and match that, they can’t go wrong.” Etc, etc., with detailed descriptions of each room’s color.
As soon as she leaves the room, the painter turns to the guy next to him and asks, “Got that, Charlie?”
“Uh-huh,” he says. “Red, green, yellow, blue, and white.”
We get a glimpse of the dining room, but we never see the kitchen:
Just as Jim is about to give up on ever coming up with a promotional strategy for WHAM (it’s a Whale of a Ham!), his housekeeper Gussie (Louise Beavers, who also played Mamie in Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby) saves the day. When Jim asks for HAM for breakfast instead of WHAM, Gussie says:
So he keeps his job, he keeps his house, and everybody’s happy.
In the final scene we see him holding the book he has published about his adventures in house building:
Here’s the real book, written by the real Mr. Blandings–Eric Hodgins. He based the story on his own trials and tribulations with a house he built. The actual house built by Hodgins still stands in the town of New Milford, Connecticut. It sold in August 2004 for $1.2 million.
According to an article in the Washington Post, Hodgins and his wife began construction in the classic New England small town in 1939, anticipating a budget of $11,000. It ultimately cost $56,000 to finish and nearly drove him into bankruptcy.
After living in their dream house for only 2 years, they were forced to sell and downsize.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Hodgins said, “wrote itself.” It was published in 1946 and was an instant bestseller. He made $200,000 on the movie rights alone, and the film was a hit. Hodgins wrote a sequel called Blandings Way, published in 1950.
As a promotion for the film, 73 full-scale replicas of the house were built in various locations in the US and raffled off. Here’s one such house in Fresno, California (via the Providence Journal), as it looks today.
The house from the film is still standing. In 1974, Fox sold the ranch to the state of California. The land is now part of Malibu Creek State Park, and the house is used for the administrative offices for park employees. Here’s how it looks today:
But maybe it’s best to remember it as it was. . .
P.S. Visit Houses Onscreen to see more, including…
Katharine Hepburn’s Country House in Bringing Up Baby