Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Written by Preston Sturges from a story by Vera Caspary
Starring Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland, Mary Nash,Luis Alberni, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, Robert Greig
Preston Sturges is one of the most overlooked great names in film comedy. You have to be a film buff to know of him, yet his films are still riotously funny today (not an easy trick). And his career was very unusual for the time: he started out as an uncredited dialog writer and moved on to do screenplays. Easy Living showed him in full flower before he moved on to being a writer/director.
J. B. Ball (Edward Arnold), a rich banker, is incensed that his wife Jenny (Mary Nash) has wasted money on an expensive fur coat and tosses it from the roof of their penthouse, where it lands on Mary Smith (Jean Arthur). She tries to return it to Ball, complaining that it broke the feather on her new hat. Ball takes her – dressed in the mink – to the shop of Van Buren (Franklin Pangborn), who draws the conclusion that Mary is Ball’s mistress. Rumors spread and Mr. Louis Louis – who is trying to get on Ball’s good side – offers her a suite. Mary still has no money, and, when she tries to find a way to steal a meal at the Automat, runs into Ball’s son, John (Ray Milland). Thinking he’s penniless, too, she lets him stay with her.
No one was Sturges’s equal in combining smart, snappy dialog with out-and-out farce and is clearly shows here. The idea about a comedy about a man’s supposed mistress might have gotten in trouble with the Hayes office, but the concept is hinted at subtly enough as to be easily missed.
I’m used to seeing Edward Arnold play a banker, but this one is different, where he actually is humane. Jean Arthur is one of my favorite 30s actresses, and this is a slightly different type of role. She usually plays a smart women, but Mary takes awhile to figure out what is going on about her.
Director Mitchell Leisen also came to directing in an unusual way: he was a set designer and moved on to directing in the mid-30s.
Jean Arthur, Ray Milland, and, to a lesser degree, Edward Arnold, were established Hollywood actors for many years. The movie also included Franklin Pangborn, Robert Greig, and William Demarest, who became part of Sturges’s “stock company” in later years.
It’s a successful comedy of its time that is still funny today.