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Free and Easy

Free and Easy
This brief (56-minute) MGM B-picture was adapted from Ivor Novello's play The Truth Game. Max and Florian Clemington (Robert Cummings and Nigel Bruce), pretend to be members of the landed gentry. Max romances the much-older Lady Joan Culver (Judith Anderson) before finding true love in the form of pretty heiress Martha Gray (Ruth Hussey).


Charming low-budget comedy. Robert Cummings and Nigel Bruce play a pair of son and father social climbers who prey on gracious but rather plain English lady Judith Anderson in this second feature from MGM in 1941. Of course, Cummings falls in love with another socialite, the prettier Ruth Hussey. This leads to a series of romantic complications when Anderson actually falls for Cummings. This was just a year before Anderson and Cummings worked together in the Warner Brothers classic "King's Row". Anderson, who had made a splash the year earlier as the villainous Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca" (receiving an Oscar Nomination), played against type in this and another MGM comedy, "Forty Little Mothers" with Eddie Cantor. In "Free and Easy", Anderson gets to wear some glamorous outfits, although her rather dowdy suit at the ballet where she meets Cummings downplays her characterization as one of the world's wealthiest women, especially with a stodgy monocle attached. She is also a lot more lighthearted in this film than she was in any of her other movies or any of her Broadway shows where she was considered one of the great ladies of the theater. She was actually quite capable of pulling this off, playing a sort of younger version of her character in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", where her Billie Burke like performance overshadowed a strong and determined woman underneath. Cummings, on the other hand, was not one of the more talented leading men of Hollywood's golden age in spite of the amazing list of credits he left behind. While not a bad actor, he had a very limited range. Even the so-called leading ladies men such as Herbert Marshall and George Brent added more spice to their weakly written parts. Nigel Bruce, always entertaining, and also from "Rebecca", just simply puts his on-screen son to shame in the acting department. C. Aubrey Smith, who had a small part in "Rebecca", appears here as Anderson's uppercrust father, and delivers his always commanding performance. As the love interest, Ruth Hussey is blander than she was in "The Philadelphia Story", which gave her an Oscar Nomination against Anderson. (Ironically, Anderson would appear in the Warner Brothers film "All Through the Night", which also starred Jane Darwell, who won the Oscar that year). According to "The MGM Story", this was a remake of a 1932 Robert Montgomery film entitled "But the Flesh is Weak". Hopefully both will be shown together on Turner Classic Movies (where I saw "Free and Easy") to compare the two. Montgomery, it should be noted, was one of Hollywood's best leading men in the 1930's. His range was much greater than Cummings who did better in frivolous comedies like this rather than dramas such as "King's Row" and "The Lost Moment". At 56 minutes, "Free and Easy" is easy and free to watch on cable, especially for the presence of the supporting players.

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