Today is Saturday, and I’m going to publish my first 100 New Code Films article of the week today. I was planning on publishing this article yesterday, but I decided to wait until after midnight so that this could be published on the official birthday of the actress I am honoring in it. As I often do, I am doubling this entry in our semi-weekly series with a blogathon entry. Since I have two watch and write about two American Breen Era (1934-1954) films I have never seen before each week anyway, why not make them films which match topics of blogathons?
Today’s topic is The Devil and Miss Jones from 1941. I selected this film because it was one of the few Jean Arthur films on Amazon Prime Video which I hadn’t seen yet. Recently, I have been searching Prime Video to choose my blogathon entry topics rather than searching the featured actors’ IMDb filmographies. When I am less careful about planning, I randomly choose new Code films which sound interesting, only to discover the day before the blogathon begins that the film isn’t offered on Amazon Video and that there isn’t enough time to buy a DVD! Fortunately, I planned ahead for this one. I watched this movie a few Sundays ago.
A very wealthy tycoon with a bad stomach and disposition to match is outraged when he sees a newspaper showing himself being hanged in effigy outside a department store he owns. He decides to discover the trouble makers behind this outrageous offense by going undercover in the department store as a common worker. He gets a job selling slippers and immediately forms a mutual dislike with the by-the-book floor manager. He quickly befriends a pretty young saleswoman, who immediately feels sorry for him because she infers that he is too poor even to buy his own lunch. He also meets the young lady’s friend, a pretty middle-aged woman who takes a fancy to him right away but has long received attentions from the stuffy floor manager. The young shoe saleswoman decides to take him under her wing, so she invites him to a meeting being held by her beau. The undercover tycoon is shocked when he realizes that he has been brought to the meeting of the four hundred conspirators who are behind the movement against him. His new friend’s beau is the leader’s movement! Little does the young lady realize that the destitute old man she is using as an example of the store’s tyranny is the tyrant himself. As the foursome spend more time together, the old man realizes that his stomach is a lot stronger than his doctor has made him believe, and his heart might just be a lot softer.
This movie stars Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings, and Charles Coburn. Supporting actors include Edmund Gwenn, Spring Byington, S. Z. Sakall, William Demarest, and Walter Kingsford.
This movie was directed by Sam Wood. It was produced by Frank Ross. The production company was RKO Radio Pictures. The screenplay was written by Norman Krasna. This film was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Supporting Actor for Charles Coburn and Best Original Screenplay for Norman Krasna.
This is a good Code film. It is wholesome and decent. Since it was released in 1941, I briefly considered the possibility that it might be a Non-Code Era film, but I realized it wasn’t once I watched it. Despite the title, there is nothing particularly devilish about Charles Coburn’s character, John P. Merrick, or the film itself. All the costumes are proper, including Jean Arthur’s two-piece beach outfit, which is an excellent example of an ensemble which reveals a bit of the torso while still being decent and Code-compliant. All the dialogue is acceptable. The scenarios are also proper. This film discusses unionization and employee rights as a human rights issue. While the store employees are primarily painted as the ones in the right, the opposing side, that of the owners, is also presented. Basically, the conclusion is that situations should be best for all concerned.
I highly recommend this film. It’s really funny! If you want a good laugh, you should watch this movie. It presents a fairly common story in an interesting and unusual way. Stories about people donning false identities to discover the truth about a situation are always very entertaining, and this one is particularly so. In many ways, Charles Coburn is the main character in this story, or at least second in importance. His attitude of acting as the hand of justice by stealthily discovering information reminded me of The Count of Monte Cristo, since the titular character similarly views himself as the human hand of Providence. Charles Coburn is absolutely wonderful in roles like this, changing from an old grouch to a lovable fellow. Jean Arthur plays off him and everyone else perfectly, but we will say more about her in the next section. Speaking of The Count of Monte Cristo, while watching this film, I was struck by how similar Robert Cummings is to Robert Donat, who played the Count in the 1934 film. He could be the American cousin of the famous British actor! Mr. Cummings is hilarious as the reformer who is passionately dedicated to his cause of justice! He makes great speeches at meetings and in police stations, but this role is very nuanced; he also struggles with fears and concerns about finding a job and providing for the girl he wants to marry. Spring Byington is the perfect fourth person in this quartet. She is lovely and compassionate in this part as an older woman who falls in love with a down-on-his-luck co-worker, having no idea that he is wealthy. I think its so wonderful and sweet that this older couple, played by actors Charles Coburn and Spring Byington, have such a tender romance. Usually these actors only play old married people, so it’s nice to see them in roles of people just falling in love. Edmund Gwenn plays an unusual villain in this film. It’s strange to see Santa Claus being so disagreeable! This is truly a delightful movie. I know you’ll enjoy it.
For the Blogathon
This is my entry in The 120 “Screwball” Years of Jean Arthur Blogathon, which is being hosted by Virginie Pronovost of The Wonderful World of Cinema. This blogathon coincides with what would have been her 120th birthday. She was born on October 17, 1900, 120 years ago today. Happy Birthday, Jean!
This film’s opening credits show Jean as an angel, complete with halo and wings. This is to show us the contrast between the angelic Miss Jones and the Devil she encounters, John P. Merrick. In the opening montage, Angel Jones blows out Merrick’s demonic flames with one breath. While she may not polish her halo throughout the film, she successfully blows out Merrick’s fire. She doesn’t do this just by being a goody two-shoes, as the title might imply. She does it with her warmth, spunk, courage, and, above all, her genuine concern for him. Merrick is an old grouch because he has no one in his life except his kind butler (S. Z. Sakall). When Miss Jones shows him that she truly cares about him, not his money, he realizes that people are capable of unselfish kindness. He thus determines to help her anyway he can.
Jean Arthur is wonderful in this part. She is everything this character should be. She is pretty, cute, perky, and very funny. She weeps profusely over her new co-worker’s plight at a union meeting, moving everyone present. On her day off, she likes to have fun with her friends at the beach, where she happily jumps around and climbs over the throngs of people, looking very cute in her sun suit! Her chemistry with Robert Cummings, who plays her beau, Joe O’Brien, is perfect. She simply yet aptly describes her love for Joe: “When I’m with him, I don’t know if it’s the advertised seventh heaven. We get along just average, I guess. A little arguing. Maybe even being a little bored now and then, if we’d admit it. But yet if I knew I’d never see him again…. I’ve never even thought of what it would be like not to see him anymore. I guess that’s the test of it. If I thought I’d never see him again, I don’t think I’d care if I lived or died.” This is such a sweet moment as delivered by Jean Arthur. If you appreciate this great actress or are eager to learn about her talent, I highly recommend The Devil and Miss Jones.
Happy Birthday, Jean!
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