Easy Living (DVD Review)7 May, 2012 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Victor Mature, Lizabeth Scott, Lucille Ball, Sonny Tufts.
So, OK, here’s one for you. Ask a friend to name you the pro football movie that originated as an Irwin Shaw story; was adapted by The Bad and the Beautiful’s Oscar-winning screenwriter, Charles Schnee; was directed by Out of the Past/Cat People’s Jacques Tourneur; employs footage of the Los Angeles Rams; features Lucille Ball in a straight role; and, oh, yes, casts a pre-TV Jack Paar (with a pipe always soldered to his mouth) as a team publicist named “Scoop.” The bewildered response is likely to be the same one you’d get if you suddenly opined that Joe Namath should have had the Oscar for playing a biker in C.C. and Company.
But the answer in question, which is not to be confused with 1937’s same-name screwball classic from scripter Preston Sturges and director Mitchell Leisen, does exist — though for the life of me, I can’t figure out what this title has to do with it. And if it isn’t exactly high drama, it is a 1940s sports yarn that’s fairly grown-up — one of the decade’s few, along with The Pride of the Yankees, to deal with a career-ending injury or affliction.
Of course, it doesn’t help the affected “New York Chiefs” quarterback — especially when played by someone as hunk-ishly matured as Victor Mature — to have team owner Lloyd Nolan and his colleagues refer to him and his teammates as “boys” behind their backs, a comment tossed off more in a clueless, as opposed to consciously insulting, manner. (It would, of course, have been worse with more black players on the team, but the only one who’s prominent is played by real-life Ram Kenny Washington, usually pictured here on a rubdown table.)
In a turn of events that makes you wonder just how much on the ball the Chiefs’ team physician must be, it is Mature’s insurance company that discovers a heart murmur that likely explains why the quality of his play has been falling off — a serious malady emanating from a childhood bout with rheumatic fever (think of the short lives lived by similarly afflicted Irving Thalberg and Bobby Darin). Immediately, we know this is going to cause problems at home because Mature’s marriage to a wannabe interior designer (Lizabeth Scott) hasn’t been all that sturdy even during the good times. Meanwhile, he’s considering limited career alternatives, including an assistant coaching gig at so-called “State” college. This is not what Scott signed on for and not where she’ll fit in, given that she would probably be hard-pressed to explain what a safety is.
Burned by a past fizzled marriage to the coach’s player son, Lucy mostly stands in the wings with mildly acerbic comments when she’s not rescuing Vic from passed-out status in local bars, where his health has apparently reduced him to a one-beer wonder. More interesting is Scott’s sicko relationship with the much older — and, in fact, even silver-haired — power broker (Art Baker) who will advance her interior-decorating career if she’ll put out something more than, say, free drapes. And he does this despite having publicly stated (though not to Scott herself) that she’s without talent. What makes the whole thing so twisted is that Baker’s own emasculated son had had his own designs on Scott until dad cut in almost immediately. Thanks, pop.
Running less than 80 minutes, the story could use a little more breathing room; it does not have the ending to which it seems headed. What we get is something that’s half-conventional and, by today’s standards, half-shocking (though by standards of it day, a capper that now plays like fodder for NOW fundraising mixers was possibly business as usual). In he end, we’re left with a rare pre-’70s sports movie that at least tries to deal with adult concerns, even though it’s ultimately not up fully to the task. If you doubt what its intentions are, at least, try seeing the other movie I just saw where Lloyd Nolan runs a team: as the Dodgers manager in the 1942 baseball pipe dream It Happened in Flatbush. That one will give you an idea of just how juvenile sports pics used to be — and how Easy Living marked something of a departure.