DIGRESSION: Finally, after an unreasonably long delay, Easy Living has turned up on DVD, buried in a massive Universal Studios “cinema classics” re-release series but shining brightly. Truly dedicated movie buffs and professors of film history hold this film in special regard; it is one of a small company of accidentally perfect masterpieces. It is priced at a paltry $14.85.
Preston Sturges wrote the script, some years before he would advance to the stature of writer/director; Mitchell Leisen, one of Hollywood’s smarter studio hacks, picked up on the genius quotient in Sturges’ words, the timing, the great ensemble buildups, the ear. Yes the ear; every one of the great Sturges comedies draws its maximum strength from its magnificent orchestration of the voice of its central character, drawn out to its maximum power of persuasion (Stanwyck in The Lady Eve), frustration (Bracken in Hail the Conquering Hero) and on and on.
Easy Living thrives on the sound of Jean Arthur, a sound you can come close to with a piece of tissue paper over a comb. It sings duets with the bass tuba of Edward Arnold. The structural genius of the Sturges script – every Sturges script, in fact – is the slow, steady buildup in the action toward utter chaos. Jean Arthur and Ray Milland meet in the Automat; she’s broke, but he monkeys with the machinery to provide her with food. Management wises up; all the doors on the Automat cubicles spring open. A bum at the doorway gives the signal: “FREE FOOD!!”; chaos absolute ensues.almost unbearably hilarious..
The film hangs on two of these great energy accumulations. (The second involves the New York Stock Exchange and a couple of English sheepdogs.) Mozart knew how to build his ensembles this way. I have no idea whether Sturges had Figaro or Così in mind, although he did have a pretty good cultural upbringing. But after a joyous reunion with this great comedy – and frequent revisits to his The Lady Eve, which is chock full of Cosi fan Tutte — the Mozart connection has been fun to speculate upon. Maybe it’s just because there’s been so little else to dine upon on the musical platter these holiday weeks.
More music: At the end of Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir the brilliantly conceived animation fades into horrifying realism, news footage of the faces and screams of the newly bereaved, wrapped in the saddest music I know, the slow movement of Schubert’s A-major Sonata, music of his year of death. At the opposite end of the filmmaker’s great arrt, it is also close to unbearable.