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Laura Murdock (Constance Bennett) is a poor shop girl from the tenements eking out a living to help support her large working class family. Her stunning beauty eventually lands her a job as a model and attracts the eye of her rich older boss, Will Brockton (Adolphe Menjou). Inevitably drawn to Will's luxurious lifestyle, Laura soon becomes a kept woman in a convenient but loveless arrangement. When she falls in love with another man, Jack Madison (Robert Montgomery), she wants desperately to turn her life around, but finds that it's easier said than done.
The Easiest Way (1931) was an adaptation of a 1909 Broadway melodrama by Eugene Walter. It had been made into a movie once before as a silent film in 1917 starring Clara Kimball Young. The subject matter, which was considered scandalous in 1909, was relatively passe by the time it was remade by MGM in 1931. However, it provided a strong vehicle for its willowy blonde star, Constance Bennett.
Ms. Bennett, of the famous Bennett acting family (including father Richard Bennett and sisters Joan and Barbara), had made a mark in silent films during the 1920s. She had been signed to a lucrative 7-year contract with MGM in 1925, but then gave it all up when she married the socially prominent Philip Plant later that year, who didn't want his wife to be an actress.
When Bennett and Plant divorced four years later, Bennett immediately returned to Hollywood and resumed her acting career, making pictures for Pathe, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. along the way. Her old studio MGM had been keeping an eye on Bennett's growth as an actress when Louis B. Mayer hired her to star in The Easiest Way. MGM was considering signing Bennett again to another long-term contract, and this film would be a sort of test to see how well audiences took to her.
Though audiences liked Constance Bennett as Laura, their attention was immediately captured by a little known actor in the supporting part of Nick, a laundry delivery man who marries Laura's sister Peg (Anita Page). At the studio test screening in Glendale, California, women especially wanted to know everything about the handsome new actor with raw sex appeal - Clark Gable.
Gable was a little known contract player at MGM when he made The Easiest Way. Irving Thalberg, Vice President of Production at MGM, championed Gable and believed he could be the studio's next big male star. MGM's leading men of the silent era such as John Gilbert and Ramon Novarro had not transitioned well into talking pictures, and the studio was in dire need of a new face that could set the ladies' hearts aflutter.
Thalberg got his wish as men and women alike responded enthusiastically to Gable. "The audience sat bolt upright whenever Gable appeared," described MGM executive Samuel Marx who was at the test screening of The Easiest Way in Glendale. "He projected a tangible magic. In the lobby afterward, women were going up to ushers and asking, 'Who's that handsome laundryman?' From then on, MGM plotted Gable's course to becoming one of the biggest box office stars, making sure to pair him with the studio's most alluring leading ladies of the time. In 1931 alone, Gable appeared in a total of 12 films as a result of MGM's push to get him to the top.
Four years later in 1935, Clark Gable co-starred again with Constance Bennett in the contemporary newspaper drama After Office Hours. This time around, Gable was on equal footing with Bennett, playing her love interest. It was the only other time the two worked together. Gable did, however, go on to make a total of 6 films with The Easiest Way director Jack Conway, who also became a good friend.
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Director: Jack Conway
Screenplay: Edith Ellis, Eugene Walter (play)
Cinematography: John Mescall
Film Editing: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Charles Lawlor, John Reading
Cast: Constance Bennett (Laura Murdock), Adolphe Menjou (William Brockton), Robert Montgomery (Jack Madison), Anita Page (Peg Murdock Feliki), Marjorie Rambeau (Elfie St. Clair), J. Farrell MacDonald (Ben Murdock).
by Andrea Passafiume