Seventy-three years ago today, the film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. As a promotion for the film, the studio built 73 “dream houses” in various locations in the United States, selling some of them by raffle. The house built for the 1948 film still stands on the old Fox Ranch property in Malibu Creek State Park in the hills a few miles north of Malibu. It is used as an office for the Park.
Title: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
Directed by: H. C. Potter
Produced by: Dore Schary, Melvin Frank, and Norman Panama
Screenplay by: Melvin Frank and Norman Panama
Based on: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgins; Mr. Blandings Builds His Castle 1946 Fortune Starring: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Melvyn Douglas
Narrated by: Melvyn Douglas
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Edited by: Harry Marker
Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures
Distributed by: Selznick Releasing Organization
Release date: June 4, 1948 (US)
Running time: 93 minutes
Country: United States
Box office: $2,750,000
Jim Blandings, a bright account executive in the advertising business, lives with his wife Muriel and two daughters, Betsy and Joan, in a cramped New York apartment. Muriel secretly plans to knock out a wall and remodel their apartment for $7,000 ($74,500 today). After rejecting this idea, Jim Blandings comes across an ad for new homes in Connecticut and they get excited about moving. Planning to purchase and “fix up” an old home, the couple contact a real estate agent, who uses them to unload “the old Hackett Place” in (fictional) Lansdale County, Connecticut. It is a leaning, dilapidated, nearly 200-year old farmhouse on some 35 acres where General Gates stopped to water his horses during the Revolutionary War. The Blandingses purchase the property for 5 times more than the going rate per acre for locals, provoking his friend/lawyer Bill Cole to chastise him for following his heart rather than his head.
The old house, dating from the Revolutionary War-era, turns out to be structurally unsound and has to be torn down before the previous owner’s mortgage is paid off. The Blandings hire architect Henry Simms to design and supervise the construction of the new home for $18,000. From the original purchase to the completion of the new home, a long litany of unforeseen troubles and setbacks – including digging a deep well only to find there was a spring only a few feet under the foundation – beset the hapless Blandings and delayed their move-in date. Mrs. Blandings insists on having four bedrooms and four bathrooms. The demolished house’s owner also sues them for the balance of his mortgage. On top of all this, at work Jim is assigned the task of coming up with a slogan for “WHAM” Brand Ham, an advertising account that has destroyed the careers of previous account executives assigned to it. Jim also suspects that Muriel is cheating on him after Bill Cole slept alone in the house with Muriel one night due to a violent thunderstorm.
With mounting pressure, skyrocketing expenses, and the encroaching deadline for his assignment, Jim starts to wonder why he wanted to live in the country. Bill observes that although he has been the voice of doom, pointing out all the ways they were being cheated, when he looks at what they have here, he realizes that some things “you do buy with your heart and not your head. Maybe those are the things that really count.” Gussie, a black maid working for the Blandings, provides Jim with the perfect WHAM slogan—”If you ain’t eating WHAM, you ain’t eating ham”—and saves his job. Gussie is rewarded by the Blandings with a $10 raise, and her likeness is used in the WHAM advertising campaign. The film ends with the family, with Bill, enjoying the beautiful front yard. Jim, who is reading the book Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, invites the audience to “Drop in and see us some time.”