The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)
You... Benedict Arnold in sheep's clothing! - Mary
For the past few years there has been a show on UK TV called "Undercover Boss", if you couldn't guess it's about bosses of companies pretending to be just a normal worker to find out what things are like on the shop floor. Now I doubt it's the case but "Undercover Boss" could have got its idea from delightful 1940s comedy "The Devil and Miss Jones" because here we have a wealthy businessman going undercover as a worker in one of the department stores he owns. But in the case of "The Devil and Miss Jones" we have a storyline which has a despised boss, romance and a lot of comedy. And it is the comedy which is strong throughout the whole of the movie as well as the first class casting which makes "The Devil and Miss Jones" a joy to watch even now over 70 years later.
After learning of unrest at the department store he owns, cantankerous millionaire J.P. Merrick (Charles Coburn - Three Faces West) decides to go undercover and work on the shop floor to try and find out who the ring leaders of the unrest are and deal with them. But quickly Merrick learns that things may not be as black and white as he thought as he is treated as badly as the rest of the staff and finds himself warming to the helpful Miss Jones (Jean Arthur - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), the girlfriend of Joe O'Brien (Robert Cummings - Lucky Me) the ring leader. But he also finds himself falling for Miss Jones's friend Elizabeth Ellis (Spring Byington) but of course no one knows that he is in fact their enemy J.P. Merrick.
I will be honest "The Devil and Miss Jones" is in some ways predictable you can guess that when cantankerous millionaire John P. Merrick goes undercover he will end up warming to those who angered him and end up siding with them in their fight. And just as predictably you know that he will grow close to them especially Miss Jones and Elizabeth Ellis who he grows very fond off. As such you know that at some point Merrick is going to have to come clean to those he has grown to like and prove himself not the enemy that they believe him to be.
But the thing about "The Devil and Miss Jones" is that whilst it is quite predictable it is all so much fun. From our first introduction to the cantankerous Merrick you can't but help like him and his put upon butler George, so wonderfully played by S.Z. Sakall. And when he goes undercover are like grows to warmth as he meets the kindly Miss Jones and Elizabeth Ellis whilst learning that the management of the store are over harsh. It's all simply amusing from the way floor manager Hooper berates him through to the way he deals with a secret shopper. And it continues as we get a wonderful series of scenes at a picnic where he ends up in trouble with the law and Joe O'Brien comes to his rescue in spectacular fashion.
It is because that whilst predictable there is so much clever writing and simply amusing gags that "The Devil and Miss Jones" puts a smile your face within minutes and you never lose it. Even a set piece which sees Miss Jones struggling to hit Merrick over the head with a shoe, trust me it makes sense, is wonderfully funny and pays homage to the silent movies using a fun musical score to deliver the emotion rather than words. And there is so much more and so writer Norman Krasna and director Sam Wood deserve a lot of credit for creating such a wonderfully fun movie.
But the writing and directing is only part of the reason why "The Devil and Miss Jones" is so much fun and it is the casting which pays a huge part. Charles Coburn is brilliant as J.P. Merrick amusingly cantankerous but fatherly in the way he warms and treats Miss Jones, whilst Jean Arthur shows again what a brilliant comedic actress she is making Miss Jones so much fun. Robert Cummings also shows what a great comedian he is with so much energy he brings a spark of life to the movie when it feels like it is getting to gentle. And whilst he's not delivering comedy Edmund Gwenn is still amusing as the pompous floor manager Mr. Hooper.
What this all boils down to is that "The Devil and Miss Jones" is one of those wonderful older movies which is as fun now as it ever was. It may have a predictable story but the brilliant writing, the direction and the comedy from a brilliant cast just makes it a sheer pleasure to watch, making you smile and laugh from beginning to end.
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