Jean Arthur received her only Oscar nomination for playing Connie Milligan, a woman who decides to share her apartment during WWII in The More the Merrier. I think Jean was probably the third one that year. I guess nobody could stop Jennifer Jones from winning, except for Ingrid Bergman who starred in an epic movie. Jean, however, played a comic part and the Academy prefers serious drama to comedy. Still, the fact that she was a star helped her, I'm sure. It's ironic that the funny ladies of the 30s and the 40s (Roz Russell, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur) never received Academy Awards.
The More the Merrier is a nice comedy about a woman who shares her apartment with two strangers (both of them men, one is older, the other one is young, guess what happens). The last time I saw it, I was much more impressed by it and I kept on raving about it. However, this time I'm much less enthusiastic about it. While it was enjoyable, it's no His Girl Friday or The Awful Truth. It is lovely and the screenplay is quite good but it's nothing amazing. Charles Coburn won the Oscar for his performance but I don't see how they voted for him.
Jean Arthur is an actress I mostly know from Frank Capra's 1930s movies where she usually played a bit cynical women who turn out to be really charmed by a simple American fella but she was also quite memorable as the mother character in Shane. That being said, I think she's a very lovely, charming actress who was most certainly the best choice to play Connie in The More the Merrier. She has the opportunity to show all her comic skills and to display her irresistable charm.
However, to tell the truth, Connie's character is not the most original one ever created. She's very firm, she has a boring fiancé and such things. Her normal life (which is full of her own rules) is turned upside down by two strangers. One cannot accuse Jean Arthur of not developing Connie. We can see her journey from her initial self to a more loving and kinder woman. And the best thing about it is that this development never becomes too ordinary or predictable. Sure, the story is predictable but thanks to Jean, it's really no problem.
Arthur gets many funny scenes with Charles Coburn in the beginning and she nails them all. Again, she filled those clihés with her own charm and they turned out to be very amusing. First, the movie is a typical comedy of errors and Jean knows perfectly well how to handle it. She neither overplays nor underplays the scenes. They are just fine the way they are. It's like when you hear a joke for the fifth time and you still keep laughing at it because the person delivers is excellently. Well, that's most certainly the case with Jean Arthur here. The scene where she locks Charles Coburn out of the apartment and then he knocks on the bathroom window is an entirely predictable sequence and yet it works because of Jean.
When Joel McCrea enters the picture, the movie becomes much more romantic but Jean does that part excellently, too. They make up an excellent couple and I really was rooting for them. Everything worked out with them and the scene at the party is just wonderful. I was totally taken by Jean's charm and I became just as dazzled by it as Joel McCrea's character.
The end is also fine: Arthur's timing is excellent (once again) and I really laughed out loud when she was crying. Again, I'm a sucker for those exaggerated cries and this one was no exception (still, Diane Keaton remains my favorite in that category).
As you see, everything works perfectly with this performance. Then why am I still a bit disappointed? For some reason, I was never totally blown away by Jean Arthur's work. Although I enjoyed it from the beginning to the end, there wasn't a moment when I said "Wow! She's amazing!". Still, it's a well-played, entertaining comedy role and I really don't have complaints.
What do you think?