Friday, May 16, 2008

Catching up with Easy Living

I've got half a dozen movies that I saw the last time they were on TCM, and could write a post about, but since I don't have time to write truly in-depth posts for more than one movie a day, I keep falling behind. (You should see how I fall behind in the movies that I've taped. One Independence Day weekend, I watched a tape of a Loretta Young movie from TCM's birthday tribute to her. Loretta Young was born in January.) Not being terribly interested in the movies for today or tomorrow on TV, or having blogged about them already, I can finally get to one of them: Easy Living.

Paramount released this screwball comedy in 1937, and since it's part of Universal's library, it doesn't get seen much on TV. However, TCM were able to show it in cunjunction with its release on DVD. Jean Arthur stars as Mary Smith, a woman in New York City making a meager living writing for a magazine. One day, her life changes literally out of the blue: while she's riding to work, a fur coat falls out of the sky and lands on her. (Sure, it sounds odd, but the same plot twist of a discarded fur coat was used in Make Mine Mink.) It turns out that the fur coat has been thrown out of a high-rise apartment window by wealthy banker J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold), peeved that his wife has been overspending. (What husband isn't irritated by his wife's overspending?) Smith tries to return the coat to Ball, but he tells her to keep the coat, and even buys her a fine new hat to replace the one that was destroyed when the coat landed on it.

All this leads to a whole bunch of problems: Smith loses her job, but makes a whole lot of new "friends"; people who saw her in the fur coat accompanying Ball, believe that she is Ball's mistress, and want to use this "fact" to gain influence with Ball. In her new life, she's only made one real friend, a worker at an automat played by Ray Milland. What she doesn't know is that he is actually Ball's son, working at the automat to prove that he can make it without Daddy's money. (Also, he doesn't know that she got her coat from his father.) To call the movie wild might be a bit of an understatement. There's slapstick, constant humor created by the mistaken identities, and a pacing that gives the viewer near non-stop action, and non-stop laughs. Jean Arthur had done comedy before, and wsa quite good at it; Edward Arnold is also a joy to watch in his comedy roles. Ray Milland, on the other hand, isn't very well-known for doing comedy. Yet he's fine here, even if outshone by Arthur and Arnold. (Not that that's a slur on Milland.)

Easy Living was directed by Mitchell Leisen, who isn't so well remembered today, although he made a number of really funny movies. The name you're more likely to recognize is that of the screenwriter, Preston Sturges.

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