Another day, another dollar, or quite a few dollars if you are millionaire businessman J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold), whose brusque manner does not exactly make him popular, but does make him respected, aside from instances such as this morning when he takes a tumble down the stairs of his mansion. After spending his breakfast arguing with his son John (Ray Milland) who tells his father he will be breaking off from his fortune to prove he can make it on his own and storms out, Ball notices an extortionate bill for a fur coat on the table: his wife has been spending his money again, and he is furious, after all how many fur coats does one woman need? He rushes up to her room, a chase ensues, and the coat ends up flung from the roof...
But it's who the coat lands on that's important, as this was the era where the screwball comedy was coming into its own, so all sorts of ludicrous coincidences and chance encounters fuelled the humour, not to mention the plot. That garment settles over the head of Jean Arthur, or rather her boys' magazine writer character Mary Smith, a name that sounds like a hastily concocted pseudonym - that's important by and by. In doing so, it changes her life in a way that so many Depression-era audiences would go to the movies to wish themselves into the predicaments of the heroes and heroines of comedies and romances, a place where it was possible for wealth to be right around the corner.
Although Jean Arthur was a relatively late bloomer in her leading lady status, she had by this point found her metier in comedy where she could lend her slightly naive gravitas to roles that suited her down to the ground even if the actress was plagued with doubts, and Easy Living was one of her most typical, the ordinary woman who suddenly finds her life extraordinary thanks to the vagaries of fate. With her distinctive, squeaky voice she would seem a natural for comedy, but never really played the dumb blonde, though she invariably had a heart of gold leading Mary to get off the bus she was travelling on and try to return the coat. Allowances should be made for the times, as a fur was seen as far more of a status symbol than these days, so you have to accept it's an object of desire for the nation's women in 1937.
After asking about, Mary finds Ball and tries to give him the coat, yet somehow she ends up in a hat emporium run by Franklin Pangborn and receiving the gift of swanky headgear to match the fur. However, the film is under no illusions that no questions would be asked of Mary, and soon she has lost her job because her bosses refuse to believe her luck that morning. Don't give up hope, however, as Pangborn is playing a gossip and tells the hotel owner Louis Louis (Luis Alberni) next door about Ball and his apparent new mistress, so Louis tracks her down and installs her in his poshest rooms: this was a film directed by Mitchell Leisen, a man who loved to depict lavish opulence to offset his movies' romantic leanings, and he really goes to town on the design, often to the point of distraction.
But take a look at the name of the screenwriter in the opening credits: none other than Preston Sturges, and the impression is that he was itching to direct Easy Living himself, though he would have to wait three years for such an opportunity as his career went briefly, gloriously stratospheric in the early nineteen-forties. Certainly that busy, even chaotic sense of everything happening at once is present in the writing as Mary is dragged around by her change in fortunes to an actual fortune at her disposal when everyone thinks she is Ball's mistress and begin to treat her as someone important to better get on the good side of the tycoon, something he has no inkling of what is actually happening in connection to himself. Reintroduce Milland as her love interest, discovered working in a diner (that too, is reduced to chaos), and the stage is set to keep many elements juggling in the air, with room for another, future Sturges regular William Demarest too. By the time it has reached its final act, this was more eventful than hilarious, but the breezy appeal of its take on fickle money was difficult to ignore.