19 July 2009 | bkoganbing
What Money Can't Buy
The Devil And Miss Jones was the first film of which there were to be many in which Frank Ross produced and his wife Jean Arthur starred for RKO. The team did do one other, A Lady Takes A Chance, and Ross did some writing for The More The Merrier, but the Ross/Arthur marriage was breaking up and no more films followed.
That's a pity because The Devil And Miss Jones is a sparkling comedy about a very rich man who goes incognito among his employees to see how they live.
Of course that's not what Charles Coburn's original intent. Coburn has a passion for anonymity the same way Donald Trump loves seeing his name in the papers. When this reclusive millionaire gets picketed at his home by workers from a department store that's one of his minor holdings, Coburn isn't happy. He decides to find out just who the leftwing subversives are and takes a job as a shoe salesman in said department store.
What he does find that is that the place is run by a gang of petty tyrants, using and abusing the authority of his name. He also gets to know the union heads who in this case are a young couple, Jean Arthur and Robert Cummings.
But what really made The Devil And Miss Jones sparkle was the October romance of Coburn and Arthur's friend Spring Byington. They just might qualify as the oldest romantic coupling in film history. But they were a delightful pair. I'll bet when Coburn was young the women threw themselves at him like crazy. But as he got older and cynical it wasn't what he wanted, a trophy wife was not on the list. Some real love was just what Coburn needed.
The Devil And Miss Jones got two Oscar nominations, for Best Original Screenplay for Norman Krasna and for Best Supporting Actor for Charles Coburn. He lost the race to Donald Crisp for How Green Was My Valley which really was a supporting role. Coburn in fact is in the lead, he has more screen time than either Arthur or Cummings.
Jean Arthur was a wise woman, she could have pulled star rank with the producer and gotten more time, but she knew that Coburn was the one who made the film.
This was a timely film then and still topical now. Organized labor was gaining the right to collective bargaining under the Wagner Act in those years and the papers were full of places like this department store finally gaining a union shop. It's something that labor still fights for though on different fronts today.
As a political film, The Devil And Miss Jones is very much relevant today. As a comedy it's still very funny as Charles Coburn learns that real love is something all his money can't buy.