Monday, February 09, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Easiest Way (1931)

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.


Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I'm sorry you were disappointed with The Easiest Way. I really enjoyed it. My only complaint is that they couldn't stick to the original storyline with Constance Bennett as a prostitute rather than a mistress.

I did really enjoy this movie as a working-girl's tale of struggle during the depression. In fact, I'm going to be a post (soon I hope on it). Don't worry, it's not a review like yours. :-)

Did you tape this recently? I taped it a long time ago during one of TCM's Robert Montgomery marathons.

4:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Raquelle,

Thanks for your note! I'll look forward to your post on the movie. There was a lot I admired about it, despite finding the last 15-20 minutes or so difficult to slog through, without the emotional payoff I was looking for. :)

The Depression struggles of a working girl reminded me at times of a pre-Code movie I really like, Loretta Young's MIDNIGHT MARY.

It's been several months, at least, since I taped it. I have it on a tape with 3 other Montgomery pre-Codes, including one of my faves, THEIR OWN DESIRE with Norma Shearer.

Best wishes,

8:51 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Oh we taped it at the same time. I remember when a slew of us did Their Own Desire (1929) posts.

Did you watch Love in the Rough? It's on my tape with The Easiest Way and Their Own Desire. Jonas over at All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing is jealous of my owning it on tape as Love in the Rough is difficult to find.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Raquelle,

That's funny, my tape has THE EASIEST WAY, THEIR OWN DESIRE, LOVE IN THE ROUGH, and STRANGERS MAY KISS. :) Sounds like we did tape it at the same time!

I did see LOVE IN THE ROUGH, which has its good moments but is a little strange in spots (grin).

It's become of greater interest to me since I first saw it, however, as I have been learning about the Norconian Resort here in Southern California where both LOVE IN THE ROUGH and THEIR OWN DESIRE were filmed. (The golf course was utilized in LOVE IN THE ROUGH and the swimming pool in THEIR OWN DESIRE.) I saw an episode on the resort -- which is empty and badly in need of funds for earthquake proofing and restoration -- on the CA public TV series CALIFORNIA'S GOLD and also purchased a book about it. You may have seen a post on this topic a few weeks ago by Carrie at Classic Montgomery. Kind of fascinating as movie history meets CA history.

I have one movie left to see on this tape, STRANGERS MAY KISS. Hope to get to it before too long. :) Did you see that one yet?

Best wishes,

6:49 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

I agree on it being disappointing, especially the end.

However, making up for it IMO is the outdoor scenes. And the scene of Constance finding Bob for the first time - on the patio - is is a beaut.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That was definitely a nice moment, Carrie! And the outdoor photography was gorgeous -- especially when you consider that cameras weren't very mobile and had more trouble outdoors at this early stage in the sound era.

Best wishes,

5:02 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Loved it! I have been watching Constance Bennett on TCM and have found her acting to be remarkable. She does seemingly corny things but
adds such a powerful combination of
sexuality and fantasy that it comes across very effectively. Do you notice that when she is talking to McCrae that she stands very erect and leans back. It's a pose she uses often, to the extent that I refer to it as her trademasrk. It seems to distinguish her level of sophistication from others.

2:31 AM  

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