A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Easy Living (Mitchell Leisen, 1937)

Easy Living is one of my favorite screwball comedies, but I once had a nightmare that took place in the set designed by Hans Dreier and Ernst Fegté for the film. It was the luxury suite in the Hotel Louis, with its amazingly improbable bathtub/fountain, and I dreamed that we had just bought a place that looked like it and were moving in. I don't remember much else, other than that I was terribly anxious about how we were going to pay for it. Most of my dreams are anxiety dreams, I think, which may be why I love screwball comedies so much: They take our anxieties about money and love and work, like Mary Smith (Jean Arthur) worrying about how she's going to pay the rent and even eat now that she's lost her job, and transform them into dilemmas with comic resolutions. Too bad life isn't like that, we say, but with maybe a kind of glimmer of hope that it will turn out that way after all. Easy Living, with its screenplay by Preston Sturges, is one of the funniest screwball comedies, but it's also, under Mitchell Leisen's direction, one of the most hilarious slapstick comedies. How can you not love a film in which a Wall Street fat cat (Edward Arnold) falls downstairs? Or the celebrated scene in which the little doors in the Automat go haywire, producing food-fight chaos that builds and builds? The fall of the fat cat and the rush on the Automat reveal that Easy Living was a product of the Depression, anxiety made pervasive and world-wide, when we needed hope in the form of comic nonsense to keep us going. This is also an essential film for those of us who love Preston Sturges's movies, for although he didn't direct it, his hand is evident throughout, not only in the dialogue but also in the casting, with character actors who would later form part of Sturges's stock company, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, and Robert Greig among them. Ray Milland displays a Cary Grant-like glint of amusement at what's going on, Luis Alberni spouts Sturges's wonderful malapropisms as the hotel owner Louis Louis, and Mary Nash brings the right amount of indignation and humor to her role as Arnold's wife. I only wonder why Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin weren't credited for their title song, which is heard (though without its lyrics), as background music throughout the film.