Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Easy Living (1937)

EASY LIVING is one of my very favorite screwball comedies, which I watched again this evening.

Jean Arthur is adorable as Mary Smith, a secretary whose world is turned upside-down when a wealthy financier, J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold), tosses his wife's sable coat off a rooftop and it lands on Mary. When J.B. insists that Mary keep the coat, other people get the wrong impression of Mary and J.B.'s relationship, and for reasons too complicated to explain here, soon all sorts of people are showering bewildered Mary with lavish gifts.

In the midst of all this, Mary meets a nice young man, Johnny (Ray Milland), who works at the Automat. Unbeknownst to Mary, Johnny just happens to be J.B. Ball's son.

This is one of those movies where the chaos and misunderstandings build and build, with very funny results. Milland is utterly charming, Arnold is his usual blustery self, and there is a grand supporting cast including Franklin Pangborn, Luis Alberni, Esther Dale, Mary Nash, and Robert Grieg. Grieg seems to have cornered the market on playing butlers in the '30s; he was the butler in several films recently reviewed here, including TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), FEMALE (1933), and MIDNIGHT MARY (1933).

The Art Deco settings are gorgeous; I can't help wondering if the ultra-elaborate bathtub helped inspire the bathroom design in MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY.

Perhaps the most famous sequence in EASY LIVING takes place in the Automat. All of the Automat windows fly open at once, and a melee ensues as people race to grab "free" food. A very hungry Jean Arthur trying to continue eating her beef pot pie amidst the chaos is a delightfully funny moment.

For a fascinating pictorial history of the Automat, I highly recommend THE AUTOMAT: THE HISTORY, RECIPES, AND ALLURE OF HORN AND HARDART'S MASTERPIECE by Lorraine Diehl and Marianne Hardart. The book is printed on glossy paper and has an interesting text along with numerous historic photos. Among the pictures are stills from movies with scenes set in the Automat. JUST THIS ONCE, reviewed here two years ago, is one of the films shown in the book along with EASY LIVING.

EASY LIVING was directed by Mitchell Leisen, from a script by Preston Sturges. This black and white movie runs 88 minutes.

EASY LIVING has previously been released on video in a very nice, crisp print. It's being released on DVD next Tuesday, April 22nd. To celebrate, TCM is showing the movie on the DVD release date.

If you're looking for a fun film which provides lots of chuckles, EASY LIVING is just the ticket. I think of wide-eyed Jean Arthur gasping "Golly!" and I smile all over again.

November 2012 Update: I had the opportunity to see this film in 35mm at UCLA's series celebrating director Mitchell Leisen.

August 2019 Update: This film is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. My review of the Blu-ray may be found here.


Blogger Missy said...

I think I've only seen bits of this, so I'm going to record it in an hour.

Thanks for the recommendation.


4:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you enjoy it too, Missy! Let me know what you think.

Best wishes,

1:34 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

I didn't have a chance to watch it yet, but I did record it. I'll let you know.


3:53 PM  

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