The Easiest Way
Cast & Crew
Laura Murdock and her siblings live in poverty and work hard to support their indolent father Ben, an out-of-work longshoreman who would rather live off his children than find another job. Although Ben and his wife Agnes are eager to see their daughter Peg marry Nick, because he makes a decent income, Laura tells them that she would rather marry for love. One day, while working at her department store job, Laura is approached by a man from the Brockton Advertising Agency, who offers her a modelling job at his fashionable agency. Laura accepts the offer and on her first visit to the agency befriends Elfie, a veteran model, who gives her some learned advice about the profession. Soon after starting at the agency, Laura is called in to meet Willard Brockton, the head of the agency, who, upon learning that Laura has no boyfriend, convinces her to join him for a drive through the park. Laura quickly becomes successful at modelling and finds an elegant city apartment. No sooner does Laura find success, however, than her mother refuses to see her because she is convinced that her daughter has changed for the worse. Brockton continues to woo Laura by inviting her to move into his luxury apartment and showering her with gifts. When Laura visits her sister Peg, who is now married to Nick and has a child, her showy wealth meets with resentment from Nick, who asks her to leave. While vacationing with Brockton in Colorado, Laura meets newspaper reporter Jack Madison, and they soon fall in love. When Jack takes a long overseas assignment, Laura, who promised to leave Brockton and wait for him to return, tells her boss that their relationship is through. Brockton responds by requesting the return of his gifts and then sticking Laura with the room bill. Destitute, Laura takes a job at Macy's department store and asks Elfie to loan her some money, but Elfie refuses. Later, Ben visits Laura with news that her mother is gravely ill and in need of money for a stomach specialist. He also tells her that she is still disgusted with her lifestyle and does not want to see her. Following her mother's death, the desperate Laura calls Brockton, and though he refuses to loan her money, he takes her back on the condition that she write Jack and inform him that their relationship is finished. Soon after she returns to Brockton, Jack returns from South America and calls Laura. Brockton eavesdrops on the telephone conversation and later threatens to tell Jack about their relationship himself. Laura, however, promises to tell Jack as soon as he shows up. When Elfie drops in on Laura, broke, widowed and wanting to borrow money, Laura gives her a piece of jewelry. Elfie then advises Laura to marry Jack right away and leave Brockton. Laura's plan to elope with Jack crumbles when Brockton returns home unexpectedly, sees her packed bags and informs Jack about her life with him. Though Laura tries to explain the situation, Jack is angered and leaves her. The devastated Laura then leaves Brockton and goes to Peg's on Christmas Eve. Outside their house, Laura stands in the street and sadly watches her family enjoying the holiday. Nick, upon discovering Laura in such a ruined state, has a change of heart and tries to comfort her with a prediction that Jack will come looking for her someday.
J. Farrell Macdonald
Elizabeth Ann Keever
The Easiest Way
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
The Easiest Way
The original play opened in New York on 19 December 1909.
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 Pathé 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.
Released in United States 1931
Released in United States 1931