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The Easiest Way

The Easiest Way(1931)

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In 1931, M-G-M also made a French-language version of The Easiest Way, entitled Quand on est belle. The file for The Easiest Way in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that between 1927 and 1931 the Hays Office received letters from various film producers who were interested in filming a picture based on the Eugene Walter play. First National appears to have been the first studio to plan a film based on the play. A telegram dated September 30, 1927 indicates that the studio had set David Fink as the producer, Henry King as the director, and Belle Bennett and Conrad Veidt as the stars. At the time, Jason S. Joy of the AMPP wrote that he personally thought that if the story was "not already on the 'list' [of unacceptable material] it ought to be." Joy also noted that in his conversation with Fink, the producer told him that if Sadie Thompson (1928) could be produced, he could not see why his film could not be produced. Fink eventually abandoned the project, perhaps as a result of the Hays Office's warning that the story would likely run into censorship problems.
       In March 1928, after the story was considered and then dropped by producers David O. Selznick and Joseph M. Schenck and by Universal, it was offered to one of the DeMilles, who, after discussing the matter with MPPDA President Will H. Hays, also decided to drop the picture. On October 28, 1928, a telegram sent from a Hays Office official to Joy noted that a producer named Pat Powers had purchased the story from Universal and was planning to film it. The official also told Hays that he ought to warn Powers not to "undertake a thing which other responsible companies have already decided would not be good for the industry." A similar warning went out to Fox producer Sam E. Rork in 1929 when he considered making the film. A memo in the Hays Office file indicates that the Hays Office was trying to play down its role in discouraging producers from making the film, but in January 1930, when Path inquired about the property, the office persuaded the studio not to film it because "if they bought it and then got into trouble with having it barred in various localities it would probably cost them money."
       Finally, M-G-M purchased the story, but not until Columbia had rejected it following the Hays Office's insistence that the studio use a different title and make changes to bring the story into conformity with the Production Code. By November 1930, producer Irving Thalberg owned the rights to the play, and the Hays Office, after reviewing the M-G-M screen adaptation, informed him that "the trouble with the adaptation is that it builds up audience sympathy for Laura Murdock and supplies her with the means of securing sympathetic excuses for, if not actual approval of, her weakness of character." The Hays Office also called the adaptation "much more dangerous than the original play, which for a long time has itself been considered dangerous motion picture material," and complained that the story did not go "far enough in building up the idea that Laura is being punished." As a solution to this problem, the Hays Office suggested that the end of film "show Laura in successive steps on her way to the gutter." In accordance with the suggestion, producer Hunt Stromberg informed the Hays Office that he would insert a scene in which Laura "makes it plain that the life she has been leading has been hideous, destructive, shameful and unhappy."
       Following the film's release in February 1931, Columbia sent a letter to the Hays Office, accusing it of unfairly preventing the studio from making the film, while allowing M-G-M to produce it. The letter describes Columbia producer Harry Cohn as being "incensed because he had his heart set at the time on making The Easiest Way." According to regional censorship reports, the film was rejected by censor boards in Ireland, Nova Scotia and Alberta. In Alberta the film was reportedly censored so heavily that when it reached the Alberta chief censor, he wrote Joy to complain that it "had been cut so badly to try to make it decent...that we had to stop in the middle of it, because we thought we were looking at the wrong reels."
       Walter's play was first filmed in 1917 as The Easiest Way, a silent produced by Clara Kimball Young, who also starred in the picture, and directed by Albert Capellani.