Easy Living (Mitchell Leisen / U.S., 1937):

Colombina in the Depression -- Preston Sturges provides the choleric treatment, Mitchell Leisen wraps it in velvet. The fur coat (from Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, I take it) is the last straw in the plutocrat’s (Edward Arnold) morning of pratfalling indignities, it is hurled off a Manhattan penthouse and lands on Jean Arthur’s plebeian head. "Kismet," declares the turban-wearer sitting behind her in the double-decker bus. Arnold insists that she keep it to teach his spendthrift wife (Mary Nash) a lesson; mink unfortunately goes against the "ethical requirements" of her office, so the out-of-work Arthur finds herself squeamishly executing her piggybank (complete with blindfold) for the one coin rattling inside it. The mixed signals sent by the gift also reach Luis Alberni’s English-mangling hotelier (he ponders his vacant skyscraper: "How can such a phenonument be a flop?"), who’s ecstatic to have the mistress of the "Bull of Broad Street" installed in the imperial suite. Alberni shows the fetchingly befuddled heroine her posh new lair, Leisen’s camera caresses every silk sheet, Art Deco atrium, and marble bathtub. "It’s like Arabian nights, or something," she sighs. The slip-‘n’-slide surge at the cafeteria automat that introduces Arthur to Arnold’s son (Ray Milland) is a fabulous acquisition of silent-movie comedy, later reflected across class lines in the Wall Street tumult precipitated by an innocuous remark from the ingénue. "Go and fry yourself in lard, you dirty capitalist," the cook thunders a moment before getting conked in the head with a vase meant for the boss. The stock market yields to romance, the abruptly moneyed heroine realizes her dream of buying a pair of woolly sheepdogs. Sturges’ caustic vision of a fickle economy (out of Capra and Pudovkin, and positioned toward Albee’s Everything in the Garden) is softened, though without Leisen’s chic enchantment we’d have no grace notes such as the half-asleep Arthur’s delayed reaction ("Saaaay!") to Milland’s smooch. With Franklin Pangborn, Barlowe Borland, William Demarest, Andrew Tombes, and Esther Dale. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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