Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mitchell Leisen

TCM Airs 2 Screwball Comedy Classics

Can't wait to come home tonight and watch two of my fave screwball comedies by neglected director Mitchell Leisen (pictured left) on Turner Classic Movies. Easy Living (1937) kicks off the proceedings at 8 p.m., followed by Midnight (1939) at 9:45. Easy Living stars Jean Arthur and Ray Milland with a script by Preston Sturges, while Midnight pairs Claudette Colbert with Don Ameche (in his best role up until Cocoon) with a script by Billy Wilder - plus you get the great Monty Woolley (The Man Who Came To Dinner) playing a judge. If I didn't already have it on tape, I'd also stay up late for Billy Wilder's bizarre The Major and the Minor, in which Ray Milland falls for Ginger Rogers playing an underaged, pigtailed teenager. (We're talking jailbait here folks - played for comedy!)

The Mitch Is Back
Though I love these two films, Mitchell Leisen (1898-1972) has remained an unappreciated and otherwise forgetten auteur, with harsher critics calling the former set designer turned director a "swishy hack" who fashioned "a string of campy gossamer romances for the lesser Great Ladies of Tinsel Town" and Billy Wilder famously characterizing Leisen as a glorified "window dresser." It seems only David Melville, in his Senses of Cinema essay "Notes on an Exploding Star," gave the man his due when he stated, "Leisen's oeuvre was decades ahead of its time...He's a subtle and stylish auteur who could add heart and humanity to the brittle sophistication of Billy Wilder, lend grace and elegance to the boisterous Americana of Preston Sturges." In his Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson echoes Melville's assessment but suggests that Leisen's romantic comedies flew under the radar of praise reserved for Wilder and Sturges because they were "too reliant on feeling to be screwball, too pleased with glamour to be satires – and thus less likely to attract critical attention.”

Check out these two films tonight and see what you think.

Easy Living (1937)
directed by Mitchell Leisen, 88 minutes, b&w

When millionaire Edward Arnold throws his wife's new fur coat out the window, it lands on office girl Jean Arthur, who gets a whole new life she never could have imagined. Believed to be the tycoon's mistress, Arthur gets free luxuries from storeowners and falls in love with Arnold's son, Ray Milland. Preston Sturges scripted this hilarious screwball romp.

Midnight (1939)
directed by Mitchell Leisen, 95 minutes, b&w

In order to keep a gigolo from his wife, Parisian aristocrat John Barrymore hires showgirl Claudette Colbert to impersonate a baroness and distract the would-be Romeo, in this fast-paced romantic farce scripted by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. With Don Ameche, Mary Astor, Monty Woolley.

Mitchell Leisen Links:
Internet Movie Database
Senses of Cinema: Mitchell Leisen


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