THE EASIEST WAY is a pre-Code melodrama with a very interesting cast, including Constance Bennett, Robert Montgomery, Anita Page, Clark Gable, and Adolphe Menjou. The film has some excellent moments, although ultimately I found it a bit of a disappointment.
Bennett plays Laura, a dirt-poor girl from the tenements who leaves poverty behind when she becomes the mistress of an advertising tycoon (Menjou). Meanwhile Laura's sister Peg (Page) marries Nick (Gable), a hardworking young man with a growing laundry business who looks down on Laura's having taken "the easiest way."
Laura meets her true love in a reporter, Jack (Montgomery), who loves her despite the fact that she's a fallen woman. While Jack's away on assignment, Laura attempts to lead a new life and be worthy of Jack's love, but financial circumstances lead Laura to make a desperate choice.
Although the film has a hopeful final scene, there's a definite letdown and feeling of "That's it?" when "The End" comes onto the screen. After going through 74 minutes of sturm und drang, the viewer hopes for more of an emotional payoff.
One of the film's other drawbacks is that leading man Montgomery has very little screen time, appearing only in relatively brief sequences in the middle and final sections of the film. On the other hand, eighth-billed Gable appears throughout the course of the film. Gable is very dynamic in his supporting role, and it's easy to see why he stood out to audiences and found himself on a quick path to stardom. THE EASIEST WAY is one of a dozen films Gable appeared in in 1931, and by year's end he'd moved up to leading man status. While Montgomery fans may find themselves disappointed at the size of his role, the film can be appreciated for its significance in Gable's career.
Although overall I found the story a disappointment, the film does contain some moments which are extremely striking, thanks to the work of cinematographer John Mescall. The opening sequence is quite memorable, as the camera pans past Laura's sleeping family, crammed two and three to a bed in their tiny apartment. As they get up and dress, with the father shaving in the kitchen and the young teenage son being told it's time for him to leave school and go to work, the viewer realizes in a very brief time frame that the family is poor as can be.
The film's most memorable shot might be when the camera scans up a skyscraper, going faster and faster until it zooms in on the window of the office where Laura has a new job as an advertising model. This moment actually caused me to say "Wow" out loud, although I was watching the film alone. Another sequence, with a tree reflected in a lake as Jack and Laura talk, is also quite visually beautiful.
Bennett, Page, and the rest of the cast do a good job with the material; it's the story I found a disappointment, not the execution. The movie was directed by Jack Conway. The supporting cast includes Clara Blandick and Marjorie Rambeau.
The movie has not had a video or DVD release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.
Update: This film is now available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive.