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Of all the screenplays Preston Sturges wrote for Paramount before becoming the greatest comic director of his generation, 1937's Easy Living seems the most like something he would have filmed himself--a satirical fable about chance, class, and the absurdity of the American dream. Jean Arthur is a New York secretary riding to work atop a double-decker bus when a fur coat miraculously descends from the sky and settles on her shoulders. The fur, however, has not dropped from Olympus but from the hand of a millionaire (Edward Arnold) who has just tossed it from a nearby roof to punish his wife. But as if it were a magic fleece (the mythical reference is almost certainly intended by the erudite Sturges), it makes its wearer invincible, conferring an aura of prosperity, celebrity, and power on the previously average working girl. No folk tale is complete without a prince: Sturges's is the millionaire's son, Ray Milland, who is trying to pass as an apprentice stockbroker. Directed with a light, elegant touch by Mitchell Leisen, the film lacks the crazy energy it would have had under Sturges's own hand, but this remains one of the great screwball comedies (in a year that also saw The Awful Truth and Nothing Sacred). --Dave Kehr
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