J.B. Ball, a rich financier, gets fed up with his free-spending family. He takes his wife's just-bought (very expensive) sable coat and throws it off the roof, it lands on poor hard-working...
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J.B. Ball, a rich financier, gets fed up with his free-spending family. He takes his wife's just-bought (very expensive) sable coat and throws it off the roof, it lands on poor hard-working girl Mary Smith. But it isn't so easy to just give away something so valuable, as he soon learns. Written by
Ken Yousten <email@example.com>
A Fine Comedy by Mitchell Leisin and Preston Sturges
Although it has become part of a legendary case of sour grapes, EASY LIVING is one of the best "screwball" comedies of the 1930s. The plot is very easy - Jean Arthur is a working woman - the youngest editor at a boy's magazine - who is walking along Wall Street when she is hit by a falling object - a mink coat. It has been thrown off the balcony of a large office building, which is the headquarters of one J. B. Ball, "the bull of Wall Street". This is Edward Arnold, here doing a great spoof of all his tycoon parts. Arnold's wife (Mary Nash) bought the expensive coat without getting his permission (he's rich, but he does not want his family to get soft, and considers the mink a needless luxury). Arnold does not realize what happened when he threw out the mink. Besides angering Nash (who packs up and goes away threatening to divorce him), his blundering to try to get back the coat (to return it, of course) publicizes his connection to Arthur, so that soon people think Arnold gave the coat to Arthur (i.e., she's his mistress).
Arnold's son (Ray Milland) is actually trying to prove himself without any aid from Dad (he doesn't want to be a junior partner in the bank yet). So he is going through all sorts of jobs, with less than middling success. Arnold is not impressed - he can't figure out why his son is such a mediocre worker. Milland meets Arthur accidentally, when he is working in the auto-mat (which will lead to the best known sequence in the film). In the meantime, Arthur is approached by two men, Mr. Louis Louis (Luis Alberni) who is the owner of the Hotel Louis - the most glamorous hotel in the world - and Mr. E.F. Hulgar (Andrew Tombes) who is a leading stock investment adviser. Both men believe that Arthur is Arnold's mistress. Alberni wants Arthur to live in the Hotel for a pittance: he feels her presence may cause other socialites to use the hotel, which is facing bankruptcy. Tombes is willing to pay Arthur a fee if she hears anything (pertaining to rumors concerning Arnold's latest efforts to corner the steel market).
I won't go into the plot more, except that Sturges script has real fun about the unreality of Wall Street. Arnold's brilliant investment banker may plot a steel corner (which nearly backfires), but he has difficulty doing simple mathematics regarding fractions and percentages (the hopelessness in his face counting a percentage differential with his fingers is priceless!). Alberni, who was a hotel chef with grandiose ideas, can't see that building the world's greatest luxury hotel was not a good idea in the Depression (Sturges, by the way, based this idiocy on the building of the second, current, Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the early 1930s - it was a flop initially). That brilliant investment adviser, Mr. Hulgar (whose name is an obvious swipe at E.F.Hutton) pays for tips which are basically gossip, and passes these onto his customers.
Sturges (like Billy Wilder) would later make nasty comments about Leisin, both future directors claiming Leisin ruined their satire and spoofery in the films he directed from their scripts. As I mentioned elsewhere, Leisin was not as cynical as they were, but he certainly had a good sense of humor, and he had a sense of art composition (he had assisted Cecil B. De Mille as an art director in the early 1930s) that far outshone Sturges or Wilder. One looks at the suites of Hotel Louis and they are quite stunning. One can't imagine Sturges or Wilder doing as well with decor (although Sturges might have added some comic defect in it). In EASY LIVING, the best known sequence was added by Leisin - a piece of classic slapstick. In the middle of an argument with his bosses at the auto-mat, Milland causes the doors of all the windows containing food to open at one time without money being used to open them. Suddenly every bum and hobo in New York City runs in to grab free food, and food is being thrown around by fighting hobos covering everyone in sight.
Not a bad moment of comic cinema - and Preston Sturges was not responsible for it at all. Mitchell Leisin should be better known today for his best films. He was not as great as Wilder or Sturges but he was not a hack.
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