Easy Living (1949)

Easy Living is not a light comedy, despite the presence of Lucille Ball, Jim Backus and Jack Paar. Neither is it really a sports movie, though it’s set in the world of professional football. Irwin Shaw wrote the novel on which it’s based – the story of a man who’s approaching midlife knowing nothing but how to play ball. The movie version proves surprisingly textured and involving, which ought not to be surprising, as the director is the ever resourceful Jacques Tourneur.

Victor Mature is a New York gridiron hero whose game is starting to slow down; in fact, he finds out he has a heart ailment which spells early death if he keeps on playing. But his quest for a cushy coaching job is handicapped by his ambitious wife (Lizabeth Scott). She’s not cut out for the den-mother duties a coach’s wife must shoulder, as she’s trying to make a success of her interior design business despite her own handicap of commanding neither taste nor talent – a handicap she overcomes by luring monied clients romantically. So in addition to his health and career crises, Mature faces a marital one as well.

The large cast includes Lloyd Nolan as the club’s owner and Lucille Ball as his widowed daughter-in-law, who works for the team and nurtures a crush on Mature. Tourneur shows his craft in coaxing a subdued and touching performance from her; he surpasses that by drawing from Scott, especially in a self-pitying drunk scene, the only piece of real acting she ever committed to film.

Easy living ends too abruptly (it clocks in at only 78 minutes) but there’s nary a false note or a slack stretch in it. Made near the peak of the noir cycle, which accounts for its minor-key tonality (the score, by the way, is by Roy Webb), it springs yet another surprise in being one of the first films to find a dark side in that American institution, professional football.