Thursday, March 10, 2011

Easy Living 1937

A screwball fairy tale from the depression. So one day Jean Arthur who plays Mary Smith is riding on the top of a double decker bus on her way to work down a rear projected 5th ave when a sable coat lands on her head. We know where the coat has come from .because minutes before we’ve seen  millionaire banker Edward Arnold who annoyed at his wife for spending 58,000 on it in the middle of a depression , angrily tosses it off the roof of their building where as I said it lands on Jean Arthur. This sets the film in motion. Jean wants to give the coat back, but Arnold will hear of no such thing, so Jean has this very expensive coat but no job and a $7.00 a week apartment whose rent she does not have. The plot is complicated as only a Preston Sturges script can be and is loaded with recognizable Sturges touches that will serve him well in his future Paramount films. There are mistaken identities, apoplectic fathers, lots of pratfalls, outspoken and pushy servants, lovable immigrants, prissy salesmen and of course sweet love affairs that always turn out fine in the end. Arthur’s love interest is a young Ray Milland who happens to be the son of Arnold, but of course Jean doesn’t know this. They meet very cute at the Automat where Milland out to prove to his father that he can make his way without his help has a job as a busboy, and is smitten with Arthur the minute he sees her. Wearing her sable coat but broke with only a nickel to her name, Milland decides on a scheme to get her food, and this leads to one of the wildest and memorable scenes ever put on celluloid. More confusion follows but that’s all I’m going to spend on the plot and instead I would like to sing the praises of Jean Arthur who I fell in love with one early evening in my young life watching a showing of  The Devil and Miss Jones on the early show which showed vintage films heavily cut to fit in the 5 o clock time schedule right before the news. No doubt it was her unique voice that caught my 12 year old attention, and her unusual looks. This was not your typical lady movie star, she was awkward and real, was she really even acting. I don’t know, but I really fell hard for the lady. Her career began in the silent film era but it wasn’t until Frank Capra cast her in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town that her career really took off, and some terrific movies followed. Reclusive and secretive, rumors persist to this day that she was lesbian and that’s what accounted for her low profile in such a high profile town like Hollywood. Easy Living or Living easy if you prefer is a fast and furious 88 minutes and if a movie can be said to be out of breath it’s this one. Well directed by the underrated Mitchell Leisen who did some very nice films with many top female stars including Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert and Olivia DeHavilland (who by the way won an Oscar in his To Each His Own), he was however disliked by Billy Wilder and Sturges who complained that Leisen ruined their screenplays, which is nonsense. Their anger and dislike of him had more to do with Leisen being gay, and the homophobia that ran rampant and unchecked back then. The cast is wonderful with many actors who Sturges would embrace and use many times in his is own films, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Luis Alberni and Robert Greig and If you’re quick you might pick out Dennis O’ Keefe and Lee Bowman in short uncredited early roles. One of the ten best films of 1937.


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