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Case Number 13470

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Easy Living

Universal // 1937 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // April 22nd, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Franck Tabouring doesn't like fur coats but wouldn't mind somebody dropping a Gucci suit on his head.

The Charge

A high-society screwball comedy.

Opening Statement

Rags-to-riches never looked so fun!

Facts of the Case

Jean Arthur (You Can't Take It With You) slips into the role of Mary Smith, a poor working girl who, as many other Americans, is involuntarily experiencing the impact of the Great Depression firsthand. But when an expensive fur coat one day literally falls out of the sky and lands on her head, Mary's life is about to change in an instant. Mistaken for a high-society lady rumored to be having an affair with a pompous Wall Street banker named J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold, You Can't Take It With You), Mary receives the royal treatment from everybody she encounters on her turbulent way to the top of the glamorous lifestyle.

The Evidence

Winning the jackpot is not necessarily a blessing, and a sudden jump from the working class into high society can cause quite a lot of trouble. I don't really want to go into further detail about the film's plot because I don't want to spoil all the fun, but what I can say about the story is that it offers a somewhat satirical look at high society and the importance of Wall Street during the Great Depression. Easy Living is one of those films that helped people laugh their way through hard times during the 1930s by generating a goofy portrayal of upper-class people. In focusing on a poor working girl thrust into the high life via a rather implausible misunderstanding, the film encouraged its viewers to fight their way through the Depression and believe in the arrival of better times. Think of it as a sort of metaphoric motivation: if this can happen to Mary Smith, it sure could happen to you, too.

Preston Sturges' wonderful script is undoubtedly the source for most of the fun in Easy Living. Countless misunderstandings in the film drive the humor, generate implausible but amusing plot twists, and help develop the main characters. The plot also features several great slapstick moments, which, contrary to most of what we see today in that genre, provoke an awful lot of laughs. Reigning chaos in Boll's office and a memorable fight for food inside a diner are just two of many intentionally farcical scenes that keep the film operating at a fast pace.

Jean Arthur is irresistible in the role of Mary Smith. She delivers a delightful performance, and her charming look and energetic attitude make her character enjoyable to watch. Edward Arnold is hilarious as the high-society banker J.B. Ball, who, as his name suggests, really acts like a roaring bull most of the time. His character falls victim to most of the film's slapstick, but his enthusiasm is easy to see and hear. He does scream in about every scene, and yes, it is funny. Ball's son is played by Ray Milland, who offers a sincere performance as the more sophisticated gentleman interested in Smith's character. The cast really drives the story and provokes a solid dose of great laughs.

The film comes in a black-and-white, full-frame format, and the picture quality seems quite polished throughout. The audio transfer is overall clean, clear, and quite solid for a mono version. The screaming gets a little loud at times, but it's not a particularly disturbing issue.

The only bonus feature on the DVD is a short two-minute introduction by TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne, who briefly talks about the film's main story line, the success of Easy Living, and the careers of director Mitchell Leisen and actors Jean Arthur and Edward Arnold. His intro sure makes a nice addition to the disc and tells viewers a little bit about the filmmakers, but it's a little short for my taste.

Closing Statement

The charge really says it all: Easy Living is a hilarious screwball comedy that offers plenty of light entertainment for the whole family. As a satirical take on high society and the effects of the Great Depression, Mitchell Leisen's film is one of those energetic motion pictures that helped American audiences take a break from misery and have a couple of big laughs during difficult times. Fans of classics should definitely seize the opportunity and add this little jewel to their collection.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 88
Extras: 30
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
• French
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1937
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Introduction by Film Historian Robert Osborne


• IMDb

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