For the second half of today’s double-feature on movies written by Preston Sturges, we’ve got the 1937 screwball comedy Easy Living, starring Jean Arthur and Edward Arnold.
Rich banker J. B. Ball (Edward Arnold) is furious with his wife for buying a very expensive fur coat. He tries to take it from her, but she won’t let him have it, saying it can’t be returned. However, he is still furious, and once he finally catches up to her, he takes it and throws it off the side of the building. It falls to the ground, landing on Mary Smith (Jean Arthur), a passenger on a passing bus. It ruins her hat, and she gets off to try to return the coat. J. B. runs into her on his way to work, and he tells her she can keep it. He also takes her to a hat shop, and buys her a new hat. The owner of the hat shop, Van Buren (Franklin Pangborn), recognizes J. B. and privately assumes that Mary is J. B.’s mistress. J. B. and Mary part ways (but she has no idea who he is). She goes to her job at The Boys’ Constant Companion magazine, but with everyone whispering about her new fur and hat, she is fired for loose morals (so as to protect the clean reputation of the magazine). Meanwhile, at the bank, J. B. has to deal with Louis Louis (Luis Alberni), who is the owner of Hotel Louis and owes the bank a great deal on several mortgages. Louis is unable to pay at the moment, so J. B. gives him an extension of one week. Upon returning to his hotel, Louis is met by his friend Van Buren, who tells him about J. B. and his “mistress” coming to his shop. Figuring that J. B. wouldn’t dare foreclose on the place where his mistress is staying, Louis sends a telegram to Mary, asking her to come to the hotel. She comes, and he manages to convince her to stay in one of his most luxurious suites (but has to give her a REALLY good deal to convince her to stay). Not having any food, she goes to the automat. There, she runs into J. B.’s son, John Ball, Jr. (Ray Milland), who is working as a waiter there to prove to his father that he can make good. He becomes smitten with her, and tries to give her some free food. He is caught however, and, in the process, starts a fight that results in all the food becoming available (and a mad rush by customers to get the “free food”). Now that he’s been fired, Mary invites him to come stay at her new apartment. Meanwhile, with his son not home (and his wife having left for a warmer climate), J. B. decides to stay at the Hotel Louis overnight. In the hotel lobby, he runs into Mary, and orders a special dinner for her before leaving (on his own). The next day, it becomes common gossip that they are together at the hotel, and the place becomes quite popular. Mary starts getting calls from everybody, including stockbroker E. F. Hulgar (Andrew Tombes), who asks her what Mr. Ball thinks steel will do. Since she still doesn’t know about J.B., she assumes he meant her roommate, John, and she asks him. When he tells her steel will go down, Mr. Hulgar leaves, promising to make her money. With everybody selling (and J.B. trying to buy), everything collapses, leaving J.B. nearly broke. Can this mess be corrected, or will J.B.’s life be in ruins?
Having signed a new contract with Paramount Studios at the time, Preston Sturges’ first assignment was to adapt the story of Easy Living (by Vera Caspary), although, when all was said and done, all that was retained of the story was the title and the fur coat. Preston Sturges wanted very much to make the movie a comedy, but the producer at the time, Maurice Revnes, disagreed, feeling that it was not a time for comedies. Refusing to abandon the idea, Preston Sturges took his screenplay to director Mitchell Leisen, and the movie ended up being done anyway (although the final credited producer was Arthur Hornblow, Jr.).
The movie seems to be considered one of the better screwball comedies, and I would definitely agree with that! I’m coming off my first time seeing it, but I certainly got quite a few laughs out of the movie! Whether it was Edward Arnold’s J.B. trying to explain monetary interest to Mary, or the whole fracas at the automat when all the food doors were opened, or just the whole finale, there were many hilarious moments that stuck with me! I feel like the cast as a whole worked quite well, as they all contributed to the overall mirth and merriment of the tale! I don’t care how different this may have been from the original story that Preston Sturges was *supposed* to adapt, I’m glad he did it his way (and I’m also glad that he ignored the original producer). This is a fun film, and one I highly recommend!
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Easy Living (1937)
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. While the case doesn’t make any claims about the transfer, I would definitely say it looks quite good. The picture has been mostly cleaned up (outside of minor dirt and debris, if that even). The detail is quite good. The movie certainly looks as good as I could hope for, and that makes this release recommended!
Film Length: 1 hour, 28 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Jean Arthur – You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
Edward Arnold – You Can’t Take It With You (1938)