Friday, September 27, 2013

Connie is Kept


Constance Bennett is back in the 1931 melodrama, The Easiest Way.  She plays Laura Murdock, a department store saleswoman who is offered the opportunity to pose as an artist's model for the Brockton Advertising Agency.  She readily agrees, and finds the work agreeable.  However, she comes to the attention of Willard Brockton (Adolphe Menjou), who offers her a different kind of employment - that of his mistress. 

While visiting friends of Brockton in the country, Laura meets Jack Madison (Robert Montgomery). He knows of her life, but loves her unconditionally.  She eagerly agrees to leave Brockton, and live a respectable life.  Only problem is, Jack is leaving the country, and Laura will need to fend for herself 'til he returns.  Can she do it? Or is the easiest way the only way for her?

This film very much reminded us of Primrose Path, where our heroine struggled to avoid the oldest profession.  But, while that film was set in the early 40s, this one is set smack in the center of the Great Depression - it was hard for a man to get a job, much less a woman.  And while Laura is working, she has a lot on her plate - siblings, a mother, and an alcoholic, perpetually unemployed father.  The money that Brockton provides supports Laura in style, but also allows her to provide for her family.  Mother Agnes (Clara Blandick) refuses to see Laura once she is living with Brockton, yet clearly Laura's money is supporting her.  The only family member who refuses to live on Laura is her brother-in-law Nick (Clark Gable, in one of his first major films).  While NIck is hard, he is true to his principles; he doesn't approve of what she is doing, so he won't take anything from her.  Gable is able to give him that rugged handsomeness for which he was later known.  TCM   points out in that he was the hit of film - women came out of the film asking who he was.  

Some interesting period views here - the film is obviously precode - among other things, we see Laura's parents in bed together.  We see an old New York City railroad flat, and we are provided a view into the world of advertising, circa 1931.  It was fascinating to see the rooms of artists providing copy for department stores; almost an assembly line of painters and models.

We found Robert Montgomery's Jack to be somewhat uncaring; he insists that Laura abandon Brockton, but isn't concerned that she might not be able to earn a living, then stops writing for a time without telling her it might happen.  He even tells her to return Brockton's expensive gifts of jewelry and furs (which might have supported her til Jack's return). It's a relatively small part for Montgomery, but we always enjoy seeing him. 

We were pretty sure that Brockton would have demanded the jewelry back anyway.  Adolphe Menjou's Brockton is a very callous, calculating individual.  He is only interested in controlling a woman, and Menjou is VERY good in the part.  He plays Brockton as matter-of-fact, rather than over-the-top evil. 

We leave you with a glimpse of Laura's work as a model, and a hearty recommendation to give this film a look.   With the paring of Constance Bennett and young Clark Gable, this is a definite winner.