Friday, 7 June 2013

Easy Living (1937)

I have a peculiar history with this film. I saw it first in 2000. Although neither loving or hating it, I thought it relevant enough to buy the R1 DVD when it came out in 2008. For some reason, I couldn't pass the first ten or so minutes of the film. I tried again later (twice, I think), and again, got stuck at more or less the same point. Should point out that at this stage I already had a second copy of the film, from an Italian boxset. Finally, I now managed to pass whatever was holding me in those particular first minutes. And I enjoyed it, but...

"Easy Living" was directed by Mitchell Leisen from a script by Preston Sturges. It's a Cinderella story where a millionaire "fairy godfather" (Edward Arnold) hands to working class girl (Jean Arthur) a sable coat that he doesn't want his wife to have, with that gesture unleashing a lot of complications. At its core, the film shares some elements (the millionaire "fairy godfather" with wife problems, a girl with no money) with Leisen's later "Midnight" (written by Wilder and Brackett). "Midnight" is however, the better of the two (in fact one of the great screwball comedies). In fact, "Easy Living" is the only time I could see some possible truth in the Sturges/Wilder argument that Leisen damaged their scripts. The film would have benefited from a tighter pace (the scenes in the suite drag a bit), particularly in the middle, and better on-screen characterisation (e.g. the hotel owner and his excessive stereotypes, the millionaire's wife and her relationship with her husband), which Sturges would probably bring. However, as "Midnight" has both of the pace and the characterisation, I am not willing to lay all the blame on Leisen. Afterall, Sturges was not perfect.

Leisen (or possibly Sturges) however, did manage to slip something rather brilliant past the censors: a moment where both leads are lying together, no foot on the floor. How you may ask? By placing them head to toes. On the he could-have-done-better, I really didn't like the reinforcement at the end of the woman's place is in the kitchen -  and this is Sturges' fault.

Another major disappointment was the cast. While Jean Arthur is lovely, she could do better and did (the Capra films, the early 40s comedies). As could Edward Arnold and even Ray Milland who is as one-dimensional as he can be as the love interest and heir-to-be (possibly Sturges fault again, but Milland's lack of charisma didn't help).

So, yes, I enjoyed the film. But I will not be in a rush to watch it again.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Jean Stapleton (1923-2013)

She brightened my childhood in repeats of "All in the Family".