One morning, like every morning, Jim Blandings (Cary Grant), a $15,000-a-year advertising executive, wakes up in his cramped Manhattan apartment and is forced to compete with his wife Muriel (Myrna Loy) and their two children, Joan (Sharyn Moffett) and Betsy (Connie Marshall), for bathroom privileges and closet space. Jim then learns from his best friend, lawyer Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas), that Muriel has been talking to an interior decorator, who wants $7,000 to remodel the apartment. After vetoing the remodeling scheme, Jim goes to work, where he notices an ad for Connecticut real estate and decides suddenly that the family should move there. Soon after, an unscrupulous real estate agent named Smith convinces the trusting couple to buy a rundown Connecticut farm for $10,000.

Later, Bill, who has discovered that the Blandings have not only been overcharged for the land, but have been hoodwinked about the farm's actual size, advises Jim and Muriel to re-negotiate the deal. Unwilling to jeopardize his idealized purchase, Jim refuses to file a complaint, but takes Bill's suggestion to consult a structural expert before renovating the dilapidated farmhouse. When Bill's expert declares that the house should be torn down, Jim and Muriel seek several "second" opinions and eventually hire architect Henry L. Simms (Reginald Denny), who convinces them to build a new house.

Simms's modest plans for a new house are immediately expanded by Jim and Muriel, who demand one bathroom and two closets for each family member, as well as various hobby rooms. After the old house has been destroyed, Jim and Muriel learn that, because they failed to ask the holder of their mortgage for permission to tear down the property, they now owe him $6,000, the amount outstanding on their original loan.

As soon as work gets underway on the house, unforeseen construction problems and questionable workmen begin to plague the Blandings. An imbedded stone "ledge" requires blasting before the foundation can be laid, and the water well cannot be built until costly drilling reveals a water source. Jim's work, meanwhile, is suffering because of his domestic distractions, and Bill, the firm’s lawyer, tells him that unless he comes up with a winning ad campaign for Wham ham in six months, his boss will fire him. Although confident his creativity will return, Jim is distressed to learn that, while an underground spring has been found, it is located under the house's proposed foundation and will have to be drained. Finally, following weeks of setbacks, the house's foundation is laid and building begins. Before the house is completed, however, the Blandings are evicted from their apartment.

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Even though the story is essentially about a ramshackle structure, it is built on the sturdy and beautifully balanced triangular foundation of its three lead actors. The personas (and performances) of Grant, Loy, and Douglas are the core of the comedy here, and they are beautifully calibrated together. Loy, as the loving, patient wife, is sweet, gentle, reasonable—a voice of sanity amid the craziness. Her stubbornly reasonable outlook, however, blinds her to some of the absurdities surrounding her, which of course makes them even funnier. She is almost as obstinate as her husband about what she wants in the new house and the scene in which she describes the subtleties of paint colors to the New England builder (Emory Parnell) is both hilarious and completely believable. Loy adds warmth that gives her an appropriately maternal quality; she really is the heart of this family.

Cary Grant’s Blandings is a man who has to struggle to stay on top of his environment; he isn't effortlessly in control, but constantly having to fight his way upstream through a flood of irritants both large and small. Grant's considerable gifts for comedy work equally well in moments of physical humor (such as an early scene in which he and Loy share a tiny bathroom) and in verbal wordplay. Endearing even in his testiness, Blandings is a character we can all relate to, the well-meaning fellow who just seems to be singled out by ill fortune. In his stubborn idealism and impulsiveness, he is flawed but sympathetic, and we both laugh at and empathize with him. He and Loy make very comfortable partners, both as actors and as ostensible married couple: They complement each other so well—he fuming, she soothing—and their timing together is so skillful, that they are entirely convincing as husband and wife.
Melvyn Douglas, one of the most reliable actors of his day in comedic roles, is a delight as lawyer Bill Cole, the self-described voice of doom in this enterprise. "You've been taken to the cleaners, and you don't even know your pants are off," he tells Grant bluntly. Douglas’ expertise shows in his ease on camera, which gives him a casual, offhand comedic persona that serves as a terrific foil for the increasingly tense and high-strung Grant character. His irreverent and outspoken amusements at the travails of our hero only serve to make Blandings all the more stubborn, pitching the comedy even higher.
A classic, timeless comedy, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” is not only a terrific film in its own right but also an illuminating example of how the stars' careers developed. Although all three major stars had thriving careers in the '30s, here we get to see them approaching middle age, adapting their screen personas to a more conservative and domestic cultural atmosphere.

But, most important, they're still great actors—and their gifts for comedies were undiminished as the century approached its midpoint. The bottom line is that one doesn't have to have been a fan of the earlier (or, for that matter, later) work of Grant, Loy, and Douglas to enjoy their performances here. “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” stands on its own merits as a nearly perfect film.