It appears that some cinematic traditions from the 1930s continued into the 1940s one of which was the screwball comedy. However it also seems that the 1940s screwball comedy also included serious issues with a case in point being 1944 nominee The More the Merrier.
Indeed, whilst The More the Merrier does have screwball comedy like touches it also concentrates on the issue of the housing shortage during World War Two. The film revolves around Benjamin Dingle, an adviser on the housing shortage who arrives in Washington to find his hotel won’t be ready for two days. Dingle then has to find an apartment and ends up moving in with a young girl named Constance Milligan. Constance and Dingle have trouble working out a routine while living together which is further complicated when Dingle rents half of his room out to soldier Joe Carter. Joe and Constance start to fall for each other but she is already engaged to the straight-laced bureaucrat Charles Pendergrass. Through several different means Dingle starts to orchestrate situations where Joe and Constance will be together and even delays Pendergrass by asking him to help with some of his duties. From there, there are romantic complications as Joe and Constance fall in love and Pendergrass then discovers the whole house-sharing mess. The final scene sees Dingle seal the fate of the two younger characters and then sings outside their door with a group of homeless men.
I really enjoyed The More The Merrier and I even found myself laughing out loud at some points, something I have rarely done to any of these films. Most of the reason for that is down to Charles Coburn as Dingle, who steals every scene he is in and the highlight is the very first morning he and Constance are together they construct an almost silent routine which is absolutely hilarious. Coburn won the Oscar for Supporting Actor that year, the only award the film received, and that was more than justified just as with Lionel Barrymore in the 1930s, Coburn is a supporting star who we will see more of throughout the decade. Jean Arthur, previously the plucky heroine in You Can’t Take it With You, here plays the practical but ultimately romantic Constance with some ease and also earned an Oscar nomination. The film does suffer when Coburn isn’t on the screen and the romantic scenes between Joe and Constance go on a little too long. However the film is incredibly well written and also well shot including the scenes in which Joe and Constance talk to each other through the wall which are filmed through the window so you can see both characters. Ultimately The More the Merrier turned out to be a quaint little comedy with a serious social issue at its heart and was bolstered by a number of fine performances.