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Easy Living (1937)

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Score: 8/10

Genre: Screwball Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.

Release Date: July 16th, 1937 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Mitchell Leisen Actors: Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland, Mary Nash, Luis Alberni, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn

T

he third biggest banker in New York, Mr. J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold, flummoxed and shouting as usual), tumbles down his luxurious staircase to start off his morning. He’s greeted by a cheeky butler and eats breakfast with his rebellious son John Jr. (Ray Milland), who despises the wealth, affluence, and assumed incompetence his father’s position affords him. J.B.’s spoiled wife Jenny (Mary Nash) has a sizable bill presented to her husband for a new coat, which puts him mentally over the edge. In place of the $58,000 sable coat Jenny refuses to hand over, J.B. throws one of her other expensive furs (a kolinsky mink) off the roof.

The pricey item lands on the head of Mary Smith (Jean Arthur), who, in her attempt to return it, is escorted around town by Ball himself, who also treats her to a new hat. When Mary arrives at her modest job at the magazine the “Boy’s Constant Companion,” office manager Mr. Higginbottom spreads gossip about Mary’s coat and her new benefactor, mistaking her for Ball’s mistress. Resultantly, she loses her job.

With a stroke of luck, Mr. Louis Louis (Luis Alberni, with a frantic personality and bumbling accent to match) – the owner of the opulent but failing Hotel Louis, which is about to be foreclosed on by Ball for failing to pay any of his multiple mortgages – learns of Mary. Hoping to use her presence in the establishment as a reason not to shut down the business, he insists she stay, even when she can’t pay more than $7 a week for the extravagant Imperial Suite. Broke and hungry, she visits an automat where John Jr. has taken up employment as a waiter, and later the twosome returns to the high-class penthouse. When Jenny angrily takes off to Florida, J.B. books a room at the Hotel Louis, inviting the attention of gossip reporter Wallace Whistling (William Demarest), sure to complicate matters further.

Written by Preston Sturges (but directed by Mitchell Leisen), this rambunctious screwball comedy features one of the most colossally destructive, slapstick-infused food fights in the history of cinema. And other gimmicks include the riotous converging of all the parties at the hotel, a monstrous bathtub that gushes water, repeatedly mistaken identities, and tumultuous insider trading. But despite continual comic mix-ups and misadventures, several of the sequences are drawn out a touch too long, dwelling on ideas that don’t generate outrageousness and laughs in ample enough measure to justify their minutes. Plus, much of the dialogue is testy bellowing, with Arthur, Arnold, Milland, Alberni, and nearly every supporting role yelling at one another in confusion and anxiety; even during romantic moments, outcry is the delivery of choice.

It all culminates with roaring voices, hectic scurrying, boiling blood pressure, and even dogs barking. The cacophony of clamors works to reverse all of the vociferous predicaments that were generated in the first place, smartly correcting escalated scenarios without the usual contrivances. And, in a particularly keen closing, the final shot mirrors the initial catalyst for Mary’s out-of-control financial situation. It’s classic screwball Sturges, with capable leading lady Jean Arthur as charming as ever, sporting her froggy voice and buoyant hair, and supplying the greatest amount of appeal.

– Mike Massie

 



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