Easy Living (Jacques Tourneur, 1949)
Aging star quarterback Pete Wilson (Victor Mature) is doing his best to navigate the high pressure, cutthroat world of professional sports, trying to hold onto his job against not only Father Time, but a recent diagnosis of a heart ailment that could kill him if he keeps playing, a long-time pal (Sonny Tufts) vying for his spot on the team and his ambitious (yet talentless) interior decorator wife (Lizabeth Scott, who just happens to deliver a speech while she and Pete watch a recently cut player walk out of the locker room for the last time on how she can’t stand hasbeens) who is willing to do whatever it takes (and, yes, the upscale older man with his eye on her has every intention to plumb the depths in defining exactly what her ‘whatever it takes’ means) to be successful.
While Tourneur’s drama carries what have become pretty familiar elements by this point of this kind of tearing back the curtain on the cruel world of professional sports narrative (including the gold-digging women out to push their men past the breaking point), it’s straightforward narrative sensibility is refreshing when you compare it against, say, the shrill, pound-you-in-the-face mentality (on every level – performance to camerawork) of Oliver Stone’s contemporary 1999 professional football flick Any Given Sunday (then again, Oliver Stone and ‘pound-you-in-the-face’ together are already redundant). On top of that, where Stone finds villainous chicks everywhere he looks (from the quarterback’s wife to the female team owner), Easy Living finds a sympathetic foil to the ambitious wife, with none other than Lucille Ball (at the same time, I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but I always find it a little hard getting used to seeing Ball in anything else but her defining role, that of Cuban bandleader Ricky Riccardo’s naïve yet precocious wife, Lucy, in I Love Lucy) playing Anne, the team owner’s secretary. Tough on the outside, a bit burnt on the inside from getting too close to a player or two over the years with little happy results, she is currently doing her best to keep a helpful eye out for Pete, who she clearly has some feeling for… while having little fondness for his wife.
The football action, including the moments of tension (as contrived as they are) with Pete risking his life with no one on the team knowing (except Pete himself and us, the audience, of course), are shot intelligently and thankfully allow us to understand what’s happening (unlike, say, the Stone film, which instead utilizes an absurdly annoying flurry of Michael Bay-style cutting in some misguided attempt at creating visceral energy that instead renders the entire events frustratingly incoherent). While the film isn’t a life-changer by any stretch, and is wrapped up a bit too neatly (and I could be wrong, but… I’m not sure modern audiences would be too keen on a good slap to the kisser by Pete being the final straw that finally gets his wife to understand the importance of being a good stay-at-home domestic caretaker), it’s territory I don’t dislike (when done right enough), the performances are engaging and the milieu well conceived (they mostly used the lockers of, and players from, the Los Angeles Rams of the time).
It’s a mystery to me, though — not that I’m really complaining — other than perhaps that Tourneur directed one of the crowning iconic jewels of the genre, Out of the Past, and Mature would do his time in that particularly shadowy paranoid corner of film, why Easy Living was included as an entry in this Film Noir program… right up there with my confusion on why, on the same night, another ill-suited (and lesser than Easy Living) entry, Anthony Mann’s B-movie musical, The Bamboo Blonde, was also included.