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Film / Easy Living

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Something's strange about Mary...

Mary: (after a sable coat falls on her while she's riding on top of a double-decker bus) Say, what's the big idea, anyway?
Passenger behind her: Kismet!

Easy Living is a 1937 Screwball Comedy film directed by Mitchell Leisen, and boasting a screenplay from Preston Sturges before his directing days.

With the fall of a sable coat during her morning bus ride, Mary Smithís (Jean Arthur) world is turned upside down. She tries to return it to the rich-looking man (Edward Arnold), but he tells her to keep it. Unbeknownst to Mary, this man's the famous financier, J. B. Ball Sr., who could do without a few sable coats. He even buys her a matching hat to replace the one he ruined. And why not? Itís The Great Depression, and who doesnít want a fur coat and hat?

Yet, it causes some major events for Mary: she's fired from her job at The Boys' Constant Companion magazine because of the coat's dubious origins, and an eccentric man, Louis Louis, offers her accommodations in his empty hotel, The Hotel Louis, for no apparent reason. But even with the newly acquired luxury suite, thereís no food.

With her piggybank shattered for money, there isnít much for the automat, and the cute boy, J. B. Ball Jr. (Ray Milland), who sneaked food for her, was fired. But no bother Ė even with dubious gifts of expensive dresses and cars, she prefers this to working and being in her tiny apartment. With the cute automat boy, perhaps it isnít so bad, perhaps she can get used to all this easy living.

Not to be confused with the 1949 football drama of the same name directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Victor Mature and Lucille Ball.

This film provides examples of:

  • Audience Murmurs: The reaction of the staff at The Boys' Constant Companion when Mary enters with her fur coat.
  • Auto-Kitchen: Automats were like vending machines, except bigger and they had a staff of people making hot food. Ball Jr. breaks the system by accidentally opening all the windows, causing a mad rush to get free food.
  • Big Fancy House: The Balls live in one.
    • Mary's suite in the Hotel Louis has five reception rooms.
  • Blessed with Suck: Furs, jewelry, a palatial hotel suite—Mary gets it all. But having so many luxuries heaped on the once-starving woman without any understandable explanation eventually eats away at her (already slightly shaky) sanity.
  • Cassandra Truth: Mary's employer, Mr. Higginbottom, simply won't believe that a random man gave her this expensive coat, and then bought her a hat to go with it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Mary encountering Mr Ball Sr. and Jr. in different locations the same day is a stretch.
  • Delayed Reaction: Mary's late reaction to Ball Jr's perky good night kiss. Justified since she was half asleep at that point.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Ballís family is this. A wife who compulsively buys fur coats, a son who decides to make it out on his own, and servants that are willing to make fun of their boss.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: A paper boy hands Mr Ball Jr. the papers that inform him about his father's business troubles.
  • Follow That Car: Ball Jr. going after Mary at the end.
  • Funny Foreigner: Louis Louis (nope, not a spelling mistake, that's both of his names) is a classic example.
  • Here We Go Again!: The film begins with a fur coat falling on an unsuspecting girl, leading to a series of misunderstandings, and ends the same way with another girl getting rained on by a fur coat, suggesting the same thing starting to happen once again.
    Mary: Johnny, this is where we came in.
  • Idle Rich: Jenny Ball spends $58,000note  on one sable coat. And she's got a closet full of them!
  • Insistent Terminology: When Jenny sarcastically notes how she knows what it's like to be married to the fourth biggest banker in the country, Ball Sr. counters, "Third biggest banker."
  • Malaproper: Mr. Louis Louis.
    You are a sight for an eyesore!
  • Meet Cute: Absolutely mandatory in screwball. Here John Ball Jr. meets Mary in the automat. He wants to give her free food, and then Hilarity Ensues.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Ball Sr. and Mary. When he buys her a matching hat (since he wrecked her old one with the fur coat), a store clerk tells Louis Louis, who then asks Mary to stay at his hotel, thinking that she can influence Ball Sr. to not foreclose his hotel.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: Averted with Ball Sr. He's fairly good at his job, and is known as the Bull of Broadstreet. He has given Louis Louis three mortgages to pay for his hotel, and gives him a week extension or he'll foreclose. Quite frankly, that's being very generous to someone as nutty as Louis.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Zigzagged with J.B. Ball. He can be very snappish with subordinates at home and at work, but he also asks about their families and seems interested in them as people, and when it looks like he's about to lose his fortune, he refuses to blame any of them.
  • Offscreen Crash: Happens in the scene when J. B. Ball rams in the door to his wife's bedroom.
  • Old Maid: The Boys' Constant Companion, the magazine where Mary works, is filled with spinster types who are more than happy to see her fired.
  • Old Money: J.B. Ball Sr.'s father was a banker as well.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Ray Milland's Welsh accent comes out most of the time.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: A small, blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment:
    J.B. Ball: Do you own a fur coat?
    Mary Smith: No. I don't, but I—-
    J.B. Ball: [laughs] That's where you're wrong, you own that one. Happy birthday!
    Mary Smith: Now, just a minute, Santa Claus. What's the matter with it, is it hot (slang for "stolen")?
    J. B. Ball: I don't know; I've never worn one.
  • Piggy Bank: In a hilarious scene, Mary's hungry, and to get some money, she must break her piggy bank, Wilfred. Poor thing, she blindfolds it so it wonít have to witness the horrible execution. Poor Wilfred.
  • Plot Device: The sable coat starts it all.
  • Plucky Girl: Mary seems to fit this trope quite well.
  • The Pratfall: The Pratfalls! A hilarious scene in the automat demonstrates the awesomeness of well-timed pratfalls.
  • Pretty in Mink: The famous sable coat on Mary.
  • Rags to Riches: From her lonely apartment, to a luxury suite in a fancy hotel, Mary gets all the fixings. All due to a misunderstanding.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: The telegrapher seems to operate this way as the telegram from Mr. Louis to Mary attests: Can I See You At Once Question Mark. Urgent Exclamation Point.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: The Balls to a T.
  • Rooftop Confrontation: Jenny and J. B. run to the roof to argue about the sable coat. He throws it over, and it lands on unsuspecting Mary.
  • Skewed Priorities: During J. B. Ball's Staircase Tumble in the opening scene, his butler is only concerned about the state of his lord's trousers.
  • Slumming It: J. B. Ball Jr. decides to make it out on his own, working as a server in an automat.
  • Staircase Tumble: J. B. Ball takes one. Played for Laughs, of course.
  • Sustained Misunderstanding: Mr Louis believing that Mary is Mr Ball Jr.'s mistress and Mary believing that she was hired to boost the hotel to anyone.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: J. B. Ball Jr. finally hears the rumors and believes that Mary is his fatherís mistress, leading to this trope. He, realizing his silliness for throwing away a great girl, calls the police brigade to stop her car, and get her back.
  • Zany Scheme: Louis Louis believes that if Mary stays at his hotel (who he believes is Ball Sr.'s mistress), then Ball won't foreclose his hotel.