CAROLE LOMBARD - My Favorite Actress

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Favorite Jean Arthur Films - Part One (Comedies)

So I usually list the essential films of the classic movie goddess for each and every month. The problem I ran into with Jean is that she did so many wonderful films and I didn't know what to include. So instead of the essential films you have to see, I decided to post my favorite Jean films. And like I said there are so many of them, I had to break the list down into parts. Let's begin with comedies, where she was one of the best screwball queens of the 30' my opinion. Patti, we will get to dramas and westerns in the next part ok. So here are my fave comedy films starring Jean in no particular order. Please note there are tons of films Jean did during the silent era that I have yet to see. A good 30 or so films. Yeah, Jean was quite busy.

EASY LIVING (1937) Writer Preston Sturges and director Mitchell Leisen team up for this hilarious farce about Mary Smith (Jean), a editor for a boy's magazine, who winds up with a mink coat by accident and thru confusion and mistaken identity, she is thought to be the mistress of Wall Street tycoon J.B. Ball (played by the great Edward Arnold). Enter Ball's son (Ray Milland) who becomes attracted to Mary. One of the premiere screwball comedies of all time. 

THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD (1936) Some people kind of view this one as a lightweight version of The Thin Man, since it co-stars William Powell. The only difference is him and Jean are exes but still have a penchant for solving mysteries. I think this film is very underrated and more than holds its own as a splendid comedy/mystery that would make The Thin Man proud.

MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936) Jean's first film with Frank Capra and her first pairing with Gary Cooper, if I'm not mistaken. And the pair definitely have some chemistry as Longfellow Deeds (Cooper), a simple man from Vermont who inherits a fortune. Jean is cast as reporter Babe Bennett, who aims to get the story on Deeds one way or another. A wonderful film.

YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) For her second outing with Frank Capra, but this time Jean's co-star is Jimmy Stewart. Different actor, same result in another great comedy which I believe features Jean's finest performance. As the lovely Alice Sycamore, she falls for her boss Tony Kirby (Stewart) and is swept off her feet when he proposes. The catch...Tony has to meet her wild and crazy family. I love Jean in this film. She is most definitely has her "A" game for this one.

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) Another comedy/drama that teamed Frank Capra with Jean for the third time. And marked Jean's second pairing with Jimmy Stewart. An iconic film from that great golden year of 1939.

TOO MANY HUSBANDS (1940) This was one of the first movies I recall seeing Jean in and it is a delight.  Maybe not as well known and regarded as her other comedies but I'll take this over a lot of the comedies Hollywood cranks out now. Maybe I like it so much because it bears a similar plot to My Favorite Wife with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, also released the same year. In Husbands, Bill Cardew (played by Fred MacMurray) is declared dead after missing for a long period of time. His widow, Vicky (played by Jean) re-marries Bill's longtime friend Henry (Melvyn Douglas). When Bill shows up alive, the fun begins. 

THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES (1941) Classic comedy with department store owner J.P. Merrick (the wonderful Charles Coburn) going undercover at his store to find out which employees are organizing a union. Unbeknownst to him, the two employees he are meet, Mary (Jean Arthur) and Joe (Robert Cummings) are said organizers. Dare I say, one of the best comedies ever made. Yeah I dare say.

THE TALK OF THE TOWN (1942) Loaded with star power in Jean, Cary Grant and Ronald Colman, this film mixes screwball comedy with stirring drama expertly. Joe, an escaped prisoner (Grant) hides out at the home of his childhood sweetheart Nora Shelley (Jean), who just by chance has rented a room to law professor Michael Lightcap (Colman). How this film manages to be comedic one moment, then deadly serious the next is truly amazing. The trio of stars all give terrific performances.

THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) During the WW2 housing shortage, resilient Connie Milligan (Arthur) shares an apartment with two men through some confusion and false pretenses. Mainly by the antics of flustery old  Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn re-teaming with Jean) who lies under the pretense of not stating his sex. He then finagles young engineer Joe Carter (hey it's Joel McCrea) to join in and tries to play cupid for Connie and Joe. Fun galore!

A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948) And lastly comes this terrific and wicked cynical comedy by Billy Wilder which casts a seasoned Jean as Congresswoman Phoebe Frost, who visits Berlin to investigate GI morals. Co-starring the legendary Marlene Dietrich, this is one gem of a movie.

Up next will be my second part of favorite Jean films, focusing on dramas and westerns.

My love of classic movies is beyond measure



Patti said...

I've seen all but 2 of these, and one of those (A Foreign Affair) has been in my DVR for several months. Just haven't watched it yet.

You know how I feel about "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." LOVE LOVE LOVE it!! One of my top 12 movies of all-time. It is the film which began my love affair with Gary Cooper. I consider it more a drama with some comedic moments, though.

I actually don't much care for "You Can't Take It with You," and I can't believe it won the Best Picture award.

I completely adore "The More the Merrier." I get the biggest kick out of Connie's morning routine...down to the nanno-second. And I love the way McCrea and Coburn play off each other. They were like 2 little boys.

Although I don't love it because it's a bit too slapstick/screwball for me, I do enjoy "Easy Living." That was my very first exposure to Ray Milland.

By the way, how are you feeling? Completely well? Hope so!!

Irene Palfy said...

I had no idea that FOREIGN AFFAIR was one of your favourites of her.. I think I misunderstood you again when we talked.. so sorry! Man.. must be hard talking to me.. :"(

Kristen said...

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford is definitely an underrated film although in my review I actually did call it a Thin Man rip-off. Oddly enough my Frank Capra box-set has the Jean Arthur films you referenced above so it seems I'll be spending a bit of time with Ms. Arthur as well! I do want to see Easy Living really bad now!

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