Easy Living (1937)

Genres - Comedy, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Screwball Comedy, Comedy of Errors  |   Release Date - Jul 7, 1937 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 86 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

One of the most beautifully scripted and plotted screwball comedies of the 1930s, Easy Living unfolds with the interlocking complexity of a Rube Goldberg invention. Adapted by Preston Sturges from a play by Vera Caspary, Easy Living's mix of slapstick humor, topical "in" jokes ("Wallace Whistling" being a great roman-a-clef for gossip columnist Walter Winchell), social realism, and social satire, make it one of the most potent viewing experiences that one can find among 1930s comedies. Elements of its story recall works such as Mark Twain's story The Million Pound Note, as well as early '30s topical comedies such as Zoltan Korda's Cash, while other aspects call to mind such future Sturges works as Christmas in July, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, and Hail the Conquering Hero. The plot and the pacing of most of the movie will leave even modern viewers breathless with laughter. The picture's frantic, screwball trajectory and velocity are compromised ever so slightly by just a couple of slow points. Director Mitchell Leisen occasionally lets the action drag in ways that Sturges, once he started directing his own scripts, never would have permitted. Sturges would have treated his script's obligatory romance between the hero and heroine with enough breezy humor to let it flow freely from one section of the satirical body of the work into another. Leisen, by contrast, has it played straight and sincere, with all of the attendant seriousness of purpose entailed therein -- at the time of its release few viewers probably minded, but it is lapses like those that separate a great (and often excruciatingly funny) movie, which Easy Living is, from a cinematic masterpiece of the caliber of Sturges' own movies. Even if he didn't regard the direction as worthy of the script, Sturges did take a close look at some of the players involved, and lost no opportunity to make use of them in his own movies. Among the future members of the Sturges stock company who can be spotted here -- working in capacities very similar to what they would do for Sturges -- are Robert Greig, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Olaf Hytten, and Arthur Hoyt. Although not quite in a league with My Man Godfrey, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, or His Girl Friday, Easy Living is close enough to merit audiences as big as theirs, and also close enough to Sturges' own movies in content, if not approach, to demand attention from his fans as well. And certainly no movie ever portrayed the interaction of the different classes of New York City during the Great Depression in a zanier fashion.