Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2021) on…Easy Living (1937)

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

Audience Rating:

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)

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… The Major And The Minor (1942)

Now we have another delightful comedy, the classic 1942 film The Major And The Minor starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland.

After being in New YorkCity for a year and not getting anyplace in work, Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) decides to return home by train to Stevenson, Iowa. However, the money she had saved for the trip was not enough, due to a recent rate increase. After watching a mother and her two children buy tickets, she decides to try making herself look younger so she could buy a half-fare ticket. She manages to get the ticket, but the train conductors are suspicious of her. When they catch her smoking and give chase, she avoids them by ducking into the drawing room of Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland). Due to his “bum eye,” he perceives her as the little girl she is pretending to be, and offers her a berth for the night. The next morning, some flooding delays the train, and Philip’s fiancee Pamela Hill (Rita Johnson), along with her father (and Philip’s commanding officer) Colonel Oliver Slater Hill (Edward Fielding), come to get him. They find Susan (or “Su-Su” as she is calling herself) in Philip’s compartment, and leave in a huff. Philip, realizing he is in trouble, convinces Su-Su to come with him to the Wallace Military Institute to help him out. He gets out of trouble, and Su-Su is offered a room with Pamela’s younger sister, Lucy (Diana Lynn). Lucy quickly figures out Susan is older than she is pretending to be, and enlists her help. Philip has just returned from Washington, where he had been trying to get back into active service instead of just teaching the young cadets at the Institute, but, behind his back, Pamela had been trying to prevent him getting into active service. Lucy wants to help him out. After dealing with the young cadets, Susan is able to impersonate Pamela on the switchboard for one of her friends with a husband who is high-up in the military. At the school dance, Philip receives word that he had gotten his transfer. Susan plans to reveal herself to him after the dance, but Pamela had discovered the truth, and blackmails Susan into leaving without telling Philip anything.

The Major And The Minor was the first American film directed by Billy Wilder. He, along with his co-writer Charles Brackett, had written a number of movies together, but he had yearned to direct some of his movies, especially since some of the stuff he had written got vetoed by some of the actors and directors he had worked with. Finally given a chance, he decided to do a movie that would have some commercial appeal, so that it wouldn’t be his last. Ginger Rogers was who he wanted for the part, and she liked both the script and the idea of him as a director. For her, the story was a familiar concept, as she had lived that way when she was younger, trying to make herself appear a little younger when traveling with her mother so that she could get half-fare tickets due to lack of funds (although, admittedly, that was probably when she was still young enough that she could actually pull it off).

Now, I know that this movie is not for everyone. As much as the movie relies on the idea that a woman in her mid-20s (the character’s age, not Ginger’s, as she was about 30 at this time) could pass for a 12-year-old, it does strain credibility. Although, to be fair, the train conductors are suspicious from the start, Diana Lynn’s Lucy figures it out quickly, and Rita Johnson’s Pamela and her father assume her to be an adult woman until they are given context by Ray Milland’s Philip. Of course, the young cadets are another problem, considering most of them would (and SHOULD) get in trouble, especially in today’s “Me too” culture. It’s hard to know how to feel about Major Kirby, considering we do see him develop an attraction to the “12-year-old” Su-Su, but at the same time, we do see how it also bothers him a bit (heck, in some ways, their relationship almost reminds me of Mulan and Shang from the animated Disney film).

In spite of those issues, I really enjoy this movie. For me, it is worth watching for Ginger Rogers alone (and I would be hard-pressed to try the 1955 remake You’re Never Too Young with Jerry Lewis in Ginger’s role). This movie does have many fun moments, whether they be when she is buying her ticket at the train station, or dealing with the train conductors, or trying to deal with the cadets on the switchboard. And while I’m not fond of the cadets trying to put the move on her, it is funny to see her use the same strategy on Major Kirby at the end of the movie. This is definitely a movie of another time, when things were more innocent and kids could potentially be safer when traveling alone, or somebody else could be more helpful without being dangerous. I always enjoy watching this movie, and I would easily recommend trying it out (at least, if you can get past some of the issues I mentioned before)!

This movie is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films and previously released on DVD by Universal Studios. The Blu-ray release from Arrow looks fantastic, in my opinion. Sure, there are maybe a few scratches here and there, but otherwise the transfer is as good as I could hope for! So far, this is my first disc from Arrow, and if their other releases look this good (as I’ve heard), then I look forward to more from this label!

Film Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #4 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2019

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Roxie Hart (1942)Ginger RogersOnce Upon A Honeymoon (1942)

Robert Benchley – I Married A Witch (1942)

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