Sunday, October 09, 2011

Underrated Movie #135: Easy Living


Title: Easy Living
Year: 1937
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Writers: Preston Sturges, based on a story by Vera Caspary
Stars: Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland, Luis Alberni, Mary Nash

The Story: Another tale of the perils of mink ownership: A young secretary is riding to work in an open-topped bus (?) only to have a mink land on her head (thrown away by a financier cleaning out his wife’s overstuffed closet). Soon she’s the toast of the town because everybody assumes she’s the man’s mistress, but she falls for his layabout son instead, who is working incognito in an automat.

How it Came to be Underrated: When Struges’s films were belatedly elevated into the canon, less attention was paid to the movies he wrote before he was directing his own scripts. In the hands of a witty, sophisticated director like Leisen (sort of the poor man’s Ernst Lubitch) this becomes a prime slice of pre-Struges-Sturges (we even get appearances by Pangborn and Demarest! )

Why It’s Great:
  1. In the interest of leanness, Sturges not only knows how to lop off the beginning and end of each scene, he can even chop out the middle! He shows Arthur and Arnold start to argue about compound interest in the back of a car, then cuts to an exterior shot of the car, then cuts to them getting out once the argument has reached a crescendo. Another example: Arthur walks into work wearing her new mink and eyebrows are raised, cut to inside the boss’s office as she’s already halfway through trying to explain.
  2. Why has Hollywood failed to make any great movies about our current interminable financial strife? Because writers these days are far more likely sympathize with the 1% and not the 99. Movies like Company Men and How Do You Know fret over the fate of white collar workers, but movies won’t dare attempt to sympathize with the automat-customers of today: they’re such losers.
  3. But there are few characters as sympathetic as Arthur: she finds out that she’s accidentally become rich, so she instantly starts crying tears of joy and says “I’m gonna buy a dog!” Now, that’s lovable.
  4. This movie reminded me of going to Sundance: I was amused to find that the parking meters only worked with credit cards, but then I realized that nobody bothered to ticket you if you didn’t pay. You’re in the middle of an elite ski resort, but you never actually have to spend any money. When there’s an assumption that everybody’s rich, nobody charges each other anything.
  5. Here’s a good trivia question: what do the seemingly dissimilar classic movies Easy Living, Laura and A Letter to Three Wives have in common? They were all adapted from the writing of the unjustly-forgotten Vera Caspary.
  6. Ah, the poetry of Sturges: “Don’t be a sucker, sister, that beef pie is a wow!”
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Jean Arthur is best remembered for her legendary Frank Capra movies, but she also specialized in non-romantic pairings with stout older actors: she followed this one up with two equally underrated comedies co-starring, of all people, Charles Coburn: The Devil and Miss Jones and The More the Merrier.

How Available Is It?: It has a nice-looking DVD with an introduction by TCM’s Robert Osborne

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