If you want a witty and light summer diversion, the movie Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House is your piece of lemon meringue pie.
The 1946 best seller on which the movie was based is a fictionalized account of things that actually happened to its author, Eric Hodgins. He got $200,000 for the movie rights, which is about $2.3 million in today’s dollars.
(Ironically, Hodgins had to sell the house at a loss to recoup some of its out-of-control construction costs. After he got rich, he tried to buy it back but couldn’t.)
The house has many of the actual rooms discussed in the movie, including the little room with the flower sink. A few years ago, it was sold for $1.2 million.
In the novel’s transition from print to screen, several things were abandoned or expanded. But the screenwriters, Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, had sense enough to leave some things alone.
One thing they had sense enough to leave alone: the iconic scene where Mrs Blandings is picking colors of paint. That scene came verbatim from the book, with a few rooms omitted. For example, in the movie, you don’t know that the master bath color “should suggest apple blossoms just before they fall.”
Another thing the screenwriters used verbatim: the $1247 for “changes in closet.”
Role of William Cole
William Cole was an actual attorney, a friend of the author’s, but his fictional role in the book is minor. He gives Mr Blandings some pointed advice and then mostly disappears.
The film makers built up the part for Melvyn Douglas, who is very funny as Cary Grant’s lawyer and best friend. The triangle between him, Cary Grant, and Myrna Loy is original to the movie.
The “Wham!” subplot and Gussie the maid
In the book, the Blandings have no maid and Mr Blandings’ success in the advertising business is because of his brilliant work on a laxative account.
A great line versus a good line
Good line from the novel: “I don’t want to get a reputation for ambulance chasing when my client doesn’t even know he’s been run over.”
Great line from the movie: “You’ve been taken to the cleaners and you don’t even know your pants are off.
The happy ending
I am glad the film makers did not use Hodgins’ ending: which is of Mr Blandings lying in bed, smiling uneasily in his sleep and dreaming of the house being on fire.
In the book, his name is Savington Funkhauser. He is an architect, not an interior decorator. He is not gay. He does not suggest remodeling the Blandings’ New York apartment, which is not bursting at the seams with possessions.
Savington Funkhauser is hired to remodel the Blandings’ new house, but things do not work out. After an article about the new house is printed in a magazine called Home Lovely with a mildly critical remark about his “impracticalities,” he decides to sue.
Mr Tesander, the artesian-well digger
In the movie, Mr Tesander is a laconic old New Englander whom Mr Blandings suspects of flim-flamming him.
In the book, Mr Tesander grew up in Bosnia, of all places. He has the face of a scholar, he is an adept worker, and Mr Blandings likes and respects him from the first.
The name of Betsy and Joan’s progessive summer camp
The number of closets Mrs Blandings wants in the house
How Mr Blandings gets out of that locked room
In the movie, he is rescued by his wife. In the book, a committee of local women drop by looking to register people into the Republican party. To get their help, Mr Blandings, a lifelong Democrat, agrees to become a Republican.
Where the Blandings live in NYC, exactly
“In New York, the Blandings’ dignified seventeen-story-and-penthouse apartment building stood next door to a garage; four doors farther up the block was a ‘converted’ brownstone on whose top floor a drunken maniac had methodically slain a family of five one Thanksgiving Day just two years ago. It was a quiet, orderly block with a liquor store on one corner and a funeral home on another; rather a higher-class block than the average on New York’s fashionable upper East Side.”
What Mr Blandings says when presented with the construction bids
“Jesus H. Mahogany Christ!”
The novel is tart, not sweet. However, it is a fun companion to the movie. Available at: