Here’s a movie they don’t make anymore: Boy Meets Girl, Boy Likes Girl, Boy Helps Girl Get Free Beef Pie.
Yup, we’re talking real meat pie with flaky pastry, mouth-watering gravy and tender chunks of premium beef. Diamonds have their place, but sometimes nothing can beat a truly great beef pie.
Easy Living has a delightful collection of interesting characters, each one with a motive that, when combined with all the other characters’ motives, can only end in disaster.
Jean Arthur is a gal struggling to make it in the big city; she works for a kids’ publication which keeps her employed but barely pays the bills.
One morning, as she rides to work in an open-air double-decker bus, a sable coat – thrown from the roof of a nearby building – lands on top of her, crushing the lone decorative feather in her hat. (The hat is the better for it.)
The coat, which is valued at $58,000 (in 1937 dollars!), causes Arthur to be fired from her job and embroiled in rumours of an affair with a prominent, married banker (Edward Arnold).
But back to the beef pie. Milland, who plays Arnold’s son, is tired of people saying he cannot live without his father’s money. To prove ’em wrong, he gets a job in an Automat, the same Automat where a desperately broke and hungry Arthur decides to scrounge for food one evening – in her $58,000 sable coat.
This movie is an interesting study in excess. The rich and the wanna-be rich are greedy and excessive, a theme that would surely resonate with a Depression-weary audience in 1937. Even the sets are lavishly (and weirdly) decorated, but the scene with the biggest excess of all has to do with food – that tasty beef pie in particular.
Arthur arrives at the Automat with only enough money for a cup of coffee. Fortunately she meets Milland who takes a shine to her and creates a diversion so she can help herself to a beef pie.
Of course, Milland is caught Aiding And Abetting A Pie Thief and a big fight ensues, with lots of spilled food and broken dishes. In the confusion, an Automat patron throws pepper into the portable fan on the wall which makes the air very ticklish. As people sneeze and fumble for hankies, the patron quickly stacks trays of beef pies one atop another and scrambles for the door. Unfortunately, he trips over someone who is bent over mid-sneeze, and the food – all that glorious beef pie – tumbles to the floor.
And, after all this, Jean Arthur still has not had her supper.
Easy Living is a prime example of the 1930s screwball comedy genre – a situation that spirals out of control with amusing characters and terrifically funny lines. If you want to see why Preston Sturges became a legend, make the time to see Easy Living.
If you’re like us, however, you may want to source a tasty beef pie beforehand.
Easy Living: starring Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland. Directed by Mitchell Leisen. Written by Preston Sturges. Paramount Pictures, 1937, B&W, 89 mins.