The Devil and Miss Jones

Charles Coburn, Jean Arthur star in The Devil and Miss Jones

The Devil and Miss Jones, 1941, RKO Radio Pictures. Starring Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn, Robert Cummings, Spring Byington. Directed by Sam Wood. B&W, 92 minutes.

He’s the richest man in the world for a reason. Despite having seemingly countless business interests, he keeps watch on even the lowliest of them. Especially when one of his employees leads a belligerent crowd of unhappy workers in hanging him in effigy.

So John P. Merrick (Charles Coburn) decides the best man to suss out those who are trying to form a labor union for the employees of his department store is…John P. Merrick. He takes a job selling shoes, and finds himself under the tutelage of Mary Jones (Jean Arthur). It just so happens Mary’s boyfriend, Joe O’Brien (Robert Cummings), was the man leading the unruly crowd days before.

John finds more than those he planned to take to task, however, when Mary introduces him to a co-worker, Elizabeth Ellis (Spring Byington), a kindhearted soul who captures his heart. He’s softening in another way as well, as he becomes increasingly sympathetic to the plight of his workers.

Robert Cummings, Charles Coburn, Jean Arthur in The Devil and Miss Jones
Robert Cummings, Charles Coburn, Jean Arthur

Arthur’s husband, Frank Ross, and popular screenwriter Norman Krasna joined together to form their own production company, created in part to showcase Arthur’s talent. For their first project, they developed the idea for The Devil and Miss Jones together, and Krasna went on to write the screenplay.

Krasna didn’t set out to simply write a screwball romantic comedy, however. In its own way, this film was a statement about the labor issues facing the nation at the time. “It is as much a protest as I could make against the existing system (within) the framework of a comedy,” he said in a later interview. The story does indeed make a clear statement, both about labor and class distinctions.

Charles Coburn, Spring Byington in The Devil and Miss Jones
Charles Coburn, Spring Byington

The Devil and Miss Jones was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Supporting Actor (Coburn) and Best Original Screenplay (Krasna). While it won neither, two years later Coburn would take the Oscar in the same category for another film he made with Arthur, The More the Merrier.

This a gentle comedy with a strong social message — but not too strong for today’s viewers, who will enjoy the usual fish-out-of-water aspects of Coburn’s character stepping into the role of laborer. There is plenty of charm between Coburn and Arthur as well (not as much between Coburn and Cummings). A lesser known comedy, one worth watching if you are fan of comedies of the era.

Charles Coburn, Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings in The Devil and Miss Jones
Charles Coburn, Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings
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Princess O’Rourke

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Princess O’Rourke, 1943, Warner Bros. Starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Cummings, Charles Coburn. Directed by Norman Krasna. B&W, 94 minutes.

Princess Maria (Olivia de Havilland), heir to the throne of an unnamed European country, has taken refuge in New York City for the duration of WWII. With her is her uncle Holman (Charles Coburn), who shows particular concern she marry soon and produce male heirs. He has someone picked out, a man for whom Maria quite clearly states she feels no attraction.

On a flight to California, Maria, who is afraid of flying, takes too many sleeping pills. When bad weather forces the plane to return home, the pilot, Eddie O’Rourke (Robert Cummings), co-pilot Dave Campbell (Jack Carson) and stewardess (Julie Bishop) aren’t able to wake her. To further complicate matters, Maria is flying under the name Mary Williams, and she gave no address when she booked her flight.

Eddie takes her home, but is careful to have Dave and his wife Jean (Jane Wyman) stop by to help him care for the heavily sedated woman.

It isn’t long before Maria and Eddie have fallen for each other. He still doesn’t know who she is, and royal constraints are pulling tight.

olivia-de-havilland-robert-cummings-in-princess-orourke
Olivia de Havilland, Julie Bishop, Robert Cummings, Jack Carson

Olivia de Havilland later called this role “one of the most satisfying” she did while under contract to Warner Bros., even though it came at a turbulent time in her life. Between the time filming was completed and the movie was released, she sued her studio in a move that would ultimately significantly weaken the studio system Hollywood was built on. She won the lawsuit, but did not work for nearly two years while she was essentially blacklisted.

This was the directorial debut for Norman Krasna, who was well established as a screenwriter by this time. His work included such movies as Bachelor Mother and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Krasna won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay.

olivia-de-havilland-stars-in-princess-orourke
Olivia de Havilland

The final scenes allegedly include an appearance by President Franklin Roosevelt’s dog Fala, although the truth appears to be the dog on the screen was a different Scottish Terrier. Regardless, the pup plays an endearing part as messenger for Maria. The princess has spent a restless night trying to resolve her problem.

This is a pleasant, lightweight comedy, not of the calibre of the film to which it is so often compared, Roman Holiday, but it has developed a following of its own. Olivia de Havilland has the poise and beauty to make her convincing as a princess, and Robert Cummings is a pleasure as the bewildered suitor who doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into by falling in love.

It moves at a decent pace until the final scenes, when it starts to drag a little. It has a stellar cast, strong script and overall, is a charming film classic movie fans will enjoy.