Thursday, July 16, 2009
They really--really--really don't make 'em like this anymore.
I sometimes worry that my preference for older books, movies and comics might make me sound overly critical of modern popular culture. I don’t want to sound like an old curmudgeon about modern stuff. First, I’m not all that old. Second, I do recognize that there is still a lot of worthwhile stuff produced nowadays. Up, for instance, is one of the best animated movies ever made. Heck, I saw an episode of a current TV series (NCIS) during an airplane flight recently and liked it a lot. I really do realize that there is some good things being made today.
But there are definitely a few cases in which they really, really, really don’t make ‘em like they used to. Take screwball comedies, for instance. The screwballs made in the 1930s and 1940s have a sense of humor and a sense of timing and a sense of sweetness to them that no modern comedy can even come close to approaching.
I just Netflixed Easy Living (1937), which stars Jean Arthur and had a script written by the great Preston Sturges. I never happened to have seen this one before and I loved every second of it. It starts off with a wealthy banker (played to perfection by Edward Arnold) who is annoyed that his wife and son are spending so much money frivolously. He tosses his wife’s new fur coat off the roof of their building.
It lands on the head of Jean Arthur, a working-class girl on her way to her job. This leads to a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications that are a typical part of the genre, all of which up threatening the banker’s marriage AND nearly cause yet another economic depression.
It’s an absolutely perfect movie, drawing laughs from situational humor, word play and outright slapstick. Jean Arthur is funny and smart and—gee whiz—too pretty for words. Edward Arnold plays a perpetually grumpy man who is clearly a decent person at heart—the sort of role he played so well in about a gazillion other movies. Ray Milland seems to be having fun as the banker’s son who leaves home to prove he can support himself and only then realizes he has no actual job skills. Luis Alberni almost steals the movie as a sort-of French manager of a nearly bankrupt hotel.
They really don’t make ‘me like this any more. I don’t care if that makes me sound curmudgeonly. It’s true all the same.