Thoughts on Jean Arthur:
I’d never actually heard of Jean before this challenge, despite the fact that she has been in some incredibly popular films, like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Shane (1953). I have to admit I’m not into 1930s-early ’40s films, which is when she seems to have had her heyday.
TCM Movie Schedule:
- Seven Chances
- The Silver Horde
- Public Hero No. 1
- The Ex-Mrs. Bradford
- The Talk of the Town
- Only Angels Have Wings
- You Can’t Take It With You
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
- Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
- The Devil and Miss Jones
- The More the Merrier
- Danger Lights
J.P. Merrick (Charles Coburn), the richest man in the world, goes undercover at one of the department stores he owns to find out which workers are conspiring against him. He starts working as a shoe salesman alongside Mary Jones (Jean Arthur), who teaches him the ropes and tries to get him to join the union within the store.
I usually have a difficult time with anti-capitalist films from this era because they always seem to be close to getting the point, but are never quite there. The Devil and Miss Jones wants us to sympathize too much with the greedy, selfish millionaire, taking important screen time away from the unionizers and their cause. The workers’ struggles are mostly there as comedic relief, just mere pawns in the scheme of things.
The film has a hard time balancing all of its different themes: comedy, romance, politics, labor strikes, commentary on the police, and much more. Since the messaging was not handled with that much care, the film probably would have been better as just a straight-up romantic comedy. It also would have benefitted from better writing, since the humor was not very funny and the dramatic parts were bland.
Too much of the movie revolves around the “struggles” of Merrick and it feels like we’re supposed to identify with him rather than the working-class people. The department store workers are vilified for wanting to have better pay and equal rights, a message that seems very cruel considering the state of the American middle class in the early 1940s.
Jean Arthur injects some spunk and life into the movie, making it more interesting. Her character is relatable and a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, she does not have much chemistry with her romantic co-star, Bob Cummings, and their relationship is not really worth all of the time it gets in the film.
A lot of the scenes last too long, so even if they are sort of funny at first, they quickly become tired. A notable example being when Merrick has his butler (S.Z. Sakall) pretend to be a customer and bring in his “daughter” (actually the maid’s child) to try on some shoes. Merrick tries to sell her the ugliest shoes they have in stock, but she doesn’t want them, leading to a 3 or 4-minute long scene of him trying to jam these shoes on a flailing child.
It’s such an awkward and unfunny moment that made me pause and wonder who this movie was made for. The plot feels too simplistic for adults who may be going through similar things as the department store workers, but then it would fly right over the heads of children. The Devil and Miss Jones misses a lot of marks and never quite finds its footing.
The film ends abruptly, with all supposedly forgiven. It feels very false and “Hollywood.” We’re just supposed to forget that this incredibly rich man was fine with the unfair working conditions he was putting these people through, just because he had a change of heart all of a sudden. It feels way too simplified and therefore outdated in the current day-and-age.
- Favorite Scene: “A Day at Coney Island”
- Favorite Character: Mary Jones
- Favorite Quote: “I don’t remember when I’ve ever disliked anyone as heartily as I do him. And I’ve disliked quite a few people in my time, to their misfortune.” – J.P. Merrick
- Arthur’s Performance: She’s 100% the highlight of this film, bringing such warmth and humor to it. I’d give her performance a 4/5 but unfortunately she could not save the movie for me.
- Would I Recommend? Probably not, I feel like I’ve seen movies that cover similar subjects but do it better.
Audrey is a self-proclaimed film buff who loves to watch, read, and write about movies. Her passions include queer & feminist studies, watching obscure 80s/90s and Old Hollywood films, and discovering new music. She also writes for Scribe Magazine. Check out her podcast about actors who died young!