Easy Living (1937)
When it comes to the screwball comedy, two names should always appear near the top of any list of important contributors. Writer/director Preston Sturges and actress Jean Arthur. For this zany Paramount comedy we get both.
Second billed Edward Arnold stars here as “the Bull of Broadstreet.” He`s a banker with a loud bark and a wife who just bought one fur coat too many. He`s had enough and throws it off the balcony of their luxurious apartment. It`s this coat that is about to set off a madcap comedy when it lands on the head of Jean Arthur and ruins the feather on her hat. Confronting Arnold with the coat and her hat she realizes he doesn’t want it back and it`s all hers. Not only that but he takes her hat shopping at a swank boutique. Word is about to travel fast that the influential Arnold has taken a mistress. Struggling to make the rent, Arthur is about to have doors open and credit extended towards her all over town.
Arnold also happens to have a son who looks a lot like Ray Milland. Milland wants to get out and experience the real world. He takes a job in a cafeteria that backfires. Wouldn’t you just know it though, he discovers Jean Arthur while working there and this adds to the screwball script. Not only is Arthur supposed to be Arnold’s mistress but his runaway son who isn’t telling his true identity becomes her love interest.
This funny story is going to take Arthur from poverty to riches untold and maybe right back where she started. On the way she causes havoc for Arnold, Milland and investors on the stock exchange with some ill advised tips from those who believe she has Mr. Arnold’s ear.
Preston Sturges wrote this comedy which was actually directed by Mitchell Leisen. Mitchell was no stranger to the comedy genre and also worked with the other “Queen” of screwball comedy Carol Lombard on Hands Across the Table among many other titles throughout his long career.
Before winning his Oscar in The Lost Weekend, Ray Milland was the perfect leading man for many of the era’s greatest female stars. He seemed perfectly at ease playing second fiddle to them. Stars like Loretta Young in The Doctor Takes a Wife. He would also go on to star opposite Marlene Dietrich in Golden Earrings that was directed by Mitchell Leisen as well.
Edward Arnold had the market cornered on roles like this. He barks out commands with the best of them. Had he been under the Warner Brothers banner he probably would have been a strong contender in the gangster department with Edward G. Robinson.
Our leading lady Jean Arthur with her slightly off kilter voice is so perfectly suited to this type of material. The Devil and Miss Jones, The More the Merrier etc. So many fine titles to discover yet at the same time not nearly enough as she worked only sporadically but of course went out with a classic. Shane in 1952.
Keep your eyes peeled for William Demarest, Dennis O’Keefe and an actress named Esther Dale who plays Arnold’s secretary. Every now and then I find myself watching a film and a face or a voice gets my brain rattling trying to place her. Give me a few minutes and it’ll all come together. She played a character named Birdie Hicks who continually tried to put down both Ma and Pa Kettle in the long running series.
As for Easy Living, one can never go wrong with the talent involved here and the laughs coming at you one after another.