TCM’s star of the day is Jean Arthur, and my film pick for the actress is Easy Living, which airs today at 8:00 P.M. (EST).
Easy Living follows hard-working girl Mary Smith (Jean Arthur), whose life suddenly becomes more extravagant when a fur coat lands on her head. Wealthy banker J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold), who had thrown his wife’s new coat out the window in anger, lets Mary keep it. This leads to everyone assuming she’s his mistress, and she’s shortly fired from her job to protect the company’s reputation. But soon after losing her job, Mary begins receiving endorsement deals from businesses all over town, believing she has access to Ball’s money.
The screenwriter for Easy Living is none other than Preston Sturges, a filmmaker known for his work in 1940s screwball comedies like The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story. Before he became a director, he wrote a number of screenplays in the 1930s, and Easy Living was among his first. The film itself almost feels like one directed by Sturges, as many of its supporting players like William Demarest and Franklin Pangborn became a major part of Sturges’ regular stock company of character actors in his subsequent films. And while the film is based on a story written by Vera Caspary (the author of film noir classic Laura), Sturges supposedly kept almost nothing from the story except for the detail of there being a fur coat.
Jean Arthur is one of the most prominent comedic actresses of the 1930s and 1940s, having appeared in many beloved classic films. While Easy Living isn’t as well known as some of Arthur’s other films, it offers one of her best roles. She’s a pure delight to watch in any movie she’s in, but she’s perhaps at her most charming in this one. Arthur effortlessly knocks out every scene she’s in, whether she’s taking on the film’s madcap moments or romancing Ray Milland.
Though Jean Arthur had been working in the film industry since the early 1920s, she didn’t rise to prominence as an actress until she starred in The Whole Town’s Talking opposite Edward G. Robinson. It was the first time she played the compassionate hard-working girl, the type of role that she became associated with for the rest of her career. Easy Living came just two years later, but in that time period she had made almost a dozen films, as her popularity surged after director Frank Capra (with whom she made three films) cast her in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Despite her rising stardom following the Capra classic, she slowed down on her film output, making only one to two movies a year between 1937 and 1944. Often referred to by the press as the “American Greta Garbo” for her well-kept private life, she made A Foreign Affair in 1948 and Shane in 1953 before retiring from the silver screen. She received one Oscar nomination in her career, for Best Actress in the romantic comedy The More the Merrier, one of the films she’s best remembered for.
Directed by the underrated Mitchell Leisen, Easy Living is a brilliant mix of corporate satire, slapstick comedy, and romance. Along with Jean Arthur, always an endearing presence on screen, the film boasts a wonderful supporting cast headlined by Edward Arnold and Ray Milland. Milland and Arthur practically make a lovely screen couple, and they have a couple of the most pleasingly romantic moments I’ve seen in a movie. Just like its leading lady, Easy Living is an exceedingly enjoyable watch from start to finish.
I wrote this as a part of the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the banner below to read more posts!