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  • Benjamin May

George Washington Slept Here (1942) Review

Years before Cary Grant and Myrna Loy tried to build their dreamhouse and decades before Tom Hanks and Shelley Long slipped into their money pit, Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan had a similar architectural mis-adventure. The two star as Bill and Connie Fuller, a couple of Manhattanites forced out of their apartment by their stringent landlord. Behind Bill's back, Connie buys a dilapidated house in the countryside that George Washington allegedly once spent the night in. The two set about fixing the place up, a Sisyphean task that is sure to make you laugh, in William Keighley's 'George Washington Slept Here.'

Based on the play of the same name by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, Everett Freeman's screenplay is frequently funny, occasionally contrived and not terrifically ambitious. The conceit is simple and the narrative structure is linear- a house is renovated. It's not what one would call an unpredictable story. On top of that, the characters aren't especially well- rounded creations, and conflicts which arise between them throughout feel forced. The witty dialogue and sharp interplay between those characters is entertaining, though, and the antics they engage in whilst repairing the house are funny; if not terribly original. It may not be the most sophisticated tale ever, but it is an enjoyable one.

The house- the main location in the film- is the same one used in 'Arsenic and Old Lace,' and Casey Roberts's set dressing and decoration of it is impressive work. Allegedly, the crew roughed the place up with sledgehammers before shooting, and the results are striking. One could be forgiven for thinking the building had really been abandoned for years. This all may seem like a trivial point to make, but when a film revolves around a structure being dilapidated; it's important that it actually does look run-down- the house in 'George Washington Slept Here' really does.

Ernest Haller was a great cinematographer with a keen eye and a real flair behind the camera, with his striking work in films like 'Gone With The Wind' and 'Rebel Without a Cause' still being extolled today. His work on 'George Washington Slept Here' is less laudable, consisting of visuals that are underwhelming and flat- dull, even. Additionally, of issue is Ralph Dawson's editing: a loose affair which leaves the film with an uneven pace- and as the aphorism goes, with comedy it's all in the timing.

A performer of impeccable comic timing, Jack Benny is terrific in the film. He was a suave, instantly likable entertainer of much charm, wit and talent, which he showcases in his performance as Bill. The character was written for him, and is quite similar to the persona established on his radio and television programs. Naturally, the role fits Benny like a glove, and he and co-star Ann Sheridan have a good chemistry on screen.

Sheridan has less to do then Benny, playing the straight-man, so to speak; a feat she was more than capable of. Her understated performance is beguiling, and she proves that she had the ability to handle comedy deftly. From the supporting cast, Percy Kilbride does a memorable turn as an eccentric building contractor, Hattie McDaniel is consistently good as the Fuller's maid and Charles Coburn steals his all too few scenes as the Fullers' tight-fisted uncle.

'George Washington Slept Here' is a light, well-acted and thoroughly enjoyable comedy from William Keighley that is sure to please and amuse. While not particularly original or affecting, the story is entertaining, the dialogue is sharp and stars Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan impress with their comedic talents and ease of performance. It may not bring down the house, but 'George Washington Slept Here' will surely leave a few rolling in the aisles.


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