Easy Living

Before Preston Sturges started directing films, he established himself as an excellent screenwriter who penned, contributed or added dialogue to over 20 films including “The Invisible Man (1933), “Twentieth Century (1934),” “Imitation of Life (1934),” and “Diamond Jim (1935).” One notable comedy he wrote, “Easy Living (1937),” stars Jean Arthur, Ray Milland and Edward Arnold in a screwball comedy that supplies constant laughs while telling the story of a sable coat flung out the window of a Manhattan highrise. Mitchell Leisen directed this fast-paced concoction that delivers an interesting blend of witty dialogue and unexpected plot twists that keeps the audience grinning.

Fortune falls on Jean Arthur in "Easy Living."

Fortune falls on Jean Arthur in “Easy Living.”

Arnold plays financier J. B. Ball, known as “The Bull of Broad Street,” who lives in a penthouse above Manhattan with his spendthrift wife Jenny (Mary Nash) and his lazy son John (Milland). He flies into a rage when he hears that Jenny has bought a very expensive ($57,000) sable fur coat. Determined to stop her reckless spending, J. B throws the coat off the balcony; it lands on the head of Mary Smith (Arthur) and ruins her feathered hat. Understandably upset, Mary tracks down J. B. just as he’s heading off in his limo for work. J. B. not only tells her to keep the coat, but he takes her to a milliner shop to buy her a new hat. It’s run by the stuffy Van Buren (Franklin Pangborn), who immediately suspects an affair between Mary and the famous J. B.

When Mary shows up at work (the publishing office of “The Boy’s Constant Companion”) wearing the sable coat, her boss wonders how she can afford such elegance. He fires her and soon Mary finds trouble paying her bills. John decides to slum it by taking a job as a busboy in an automat. Mary’s arrival at the automat launches one of the funniest scenes in the movie as chaos breaks out that includes some hilarious slapstick comedy. Things get stranger when one of J. B.’s creditors, a blustery hotel owner named Mr. Louis Louis (Luis Alberni) hears from Van Buren about the J. B.’s suspected affair and hatches a plan that somehow nets Mary a magnificent suite at Mr. Louis’ hotel. A lovely scene shows Mr. Louis walking Mary through room after room of sumptuous elegance as she tries to figure out what’s going on.

John and Mary eventually find romance, but not until a lot more misunderstands crop up. A key plot point involves John casually mentioning his thoughts on the steel market. When a stockbroker acts on John’s fake advice, the stock market takes an unusual turn that threatens J. B.’s fortune. The ensuing hubbub shows how the seemingly harmless sable coat can cause so much havoc. Anyone along for the ride in this comedy vehicle will experience plenty of laughs while learning that material possessions are not always best after all.

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