|The Easiest Way (1931)
Run time: Approved | 73 min | Drama, Romance
Director: Jack Conway
Writers: Edith Ellis, Eugene Walter
Stars: Constance Bennett, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Montgomery, Clarke Gable
A slum girl discovers the joys of life as a kept woman until she falls in love. An adaptation of a notorious play, watered down to satisfy the Hays Office. Gable has a small but strong role in his first film on contract with MGM.
1. The original play opened in New York on 19 December 1909.
Toronto Film Society is back in the theatre! However, we’re still pleased to continue to bring you films straight to your home! Beginning Season 73 until now we have...
A beautiful young model finds THE EASIEST WAY to support her needy family is to become a rich man’s mistress — until she falls in love with an energetic reporter.
This little film is strictly soap opera, but it’s well presented and makes a pleasant diversion. The production values are good, especially in the opening sequence which reveals the inside of a tenement flat, and causes the viewer to appreciate the trouble MGM expended on even its small pictures.
Beautiful Constance Bennett is very convincing as a woman who frankly admits her moral standing — until true love complicates everything. Urbane Adolphe Menjou, as the rich businessman who controls Bennett, is slightly more sympathetic than usual in a role he could probably have played in his sleep. And Robert Montgomery gives his patented friendly portrayal as the steadfast fellow who earnestly loves Bennett — until he is told the truth of her situation.
A fine supporting cast helps the proceedings: tough-talking Marjorie Rambeau as an aging model out to squeeze every penny possible from the male animal; lazy J. Farrell MacDonald & careworn Clara Blandick as Bennett’s poor parents; blonde Anita Page as Bennett’s lively younger sister; and sturdy Clark Gable, as Page’s laundryman boyfriend, who would eventually supplant Montgomery as MGM’s favorite heartthrob.
Movie mavens will recognize jovial Dell Henderson and stately Hedda Hopper, both uncredited as Bennett’s Colorado hosts.
The shopgirl-turned-clotheshorse concept was a staple of 1920’s a 30’s films, with Joan Crawford wringing quite a bit of success out of the formula. Here, Bennett gives it a go in a story that was based on a 1909 stage play. She portrays the eldest of five children living with their parents in a squalid, cramped New York tenement. The father resists working while the mother barely manages to wrangle the kids and put supper on the table. Bennett toils behind the tie counter at a department store until one day she gets the opportunity to pose as a model for advertising artists. She doesn’t stop with this modest success and proceeds to hook up with the boss (Menjou), who fixes her up with a fancy apartment and all the jewels and furs she can handle. During this, she aids her family as well, though a few of them reject her for the way she earns her keep. On an extended visit to Colorado, she happens upon handsome young writer Montgomery and quickly falls for him. She decides to give up her lavish "kept" lifestyle and return to work while he is away on assignment, knowing he will be back for her to marry him. But can she take that step backwards? Bennett, one of the highest paid and most popular stars of the era presents an appealing and attractive persona (check out that waist!) She knows that what she’s doing is "wrong", yet circumstances seem to prevent her from doing otherwise unless she wants to exist in poverty. Menjou is assured and manipulative in his role. Montgomery is quite fresh and likable for the better part of his screen time. Page appears to great advantage as Bennett’s far earthier sister who winds up wed to Gable in one of his very earliest roles. He’s handsome though his character is a little self-righteous. Rambeau makes an impression as one of Bennett’s sidekicks in the modeling biz who also reaches for the top in the mistress game. Virtually all of the cast members give vivid performances. The opening sequences in the rundown apartment are quite fascinating in their snappy dialogue and depiction of the hard times. Today’s audiences will be able to see through the predictable plotting, but the film still holds interest. Though the Hays Office is sometimes blamed for tampering with the material, the 1917 silent version had at least as downbeat an ending as this one does. In fact, if the story were to end any other way than it does, there’d be very little point to it all!
Constance Bennett stars as a lower class girl who takes the easy way. That is, she becomes a kept women. We see her in beautiful gown, in jewels, in furs. Adolph Menjou is footing the bill.
Then she meets newspaperman Robert Montgomery and wants to give it all up for true love. I won’t reveal the ending. But it’s not an especially happy one, and three cheers to Hollywood for not selling out.
A few comments on the perfumers: . Robert Montgomery is not someone I can imagine anyone’s throwing over even a modest income for.
. Clark Gable has a fairly small role here. He plays, with of course no mustache, Bennett’s proper working class and disapproving brother-in-law.
. Bennett is chic as she always is. But she isn’t photographed in a faltering manner. Her profile is rather flat. She appears to have an overbite and her false eyelashes seem apparent. Maybe the director of photography and she did not get on well.
. The brilliant Marjorie Rameau turns in the earliest of her fine performances that I have seen. She plays another kept woman. When Bennett is down on her luck and asks for a loan, she sends her packing. But when her daddy dies, she comes to Bennett for money and is given it.
Her performance is in a different realm from that of any of the other players in this movie.
Bennett is a strangely forgotten star of early movies. Rambeau is a sadly underrated actress, whose career spanned several decades.
THE EASIEST WAY is an outstanding film. As so many early talkies it has rather poorly developed episodes, but that's OK with me. The varied & colorful scenes make it really entertaining. Somehow it impressed me.
Many of the scenes are brilliantly photographed : The camera climbing up the skyscraper and into the photo studio's, the opening scene of the poor New York apartment with the whole family lying in their beds, the scene of Bennett and Montgomery on horseback and sitting by the lake.
It's professionally acted by the entire cast (save Robert Montgomery). Beautiful Constance Bennett makes her character of the dreamy and uncertain girl totally believable : With a restrained, anxious attitude, never totally at ease. (In real life Bennett had a somewhat different character !) And Anita Page as her more earthy sister. Clark Gable has a small but important role, one of his very first – and he looks quite natural. Robert Montgomery is not a great actor, and his character in this film is a bit annoying. Adolphe Menjou comes across as more sympathetic.
The final scene is very unusual and beautiful. It's like a scene in a dream : It uplifts the whole film.
Should be seen in a theater for maximum impact.