14 years before he became the Father of the Bride, Spencer Tracy was the groom himself or, should I say, the “future” groom and the particular movie I’m thinking about is Libeled Lady (Jack Conway, 1936). This gifted actor hadn’t made any movies with Katharine Hepburn, yet, but that was about to come soon in 1942 with Woman of the Year which is, to this day, my favourite movie starring this legendary couple. No, in 1936, both Spencer and Katharine (we can call them by their first name only, can’t we? After all, I’m sure I am not the only one who feels that they are like old friends) were both leading a respectable career on their respective side. Respectable from the beginning until the end.
I’m telling you all this because my friend Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood had the bright idea to host a Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon. It’s Halloween soon. So if you need to find an idea for an iconic couple costume, maybe a Tracy-Hepburn match could be an idea? 😉 Anyway, with her blogathon, Crystal doesn’t only celebrate the films they made together, but also the ones they made separately. After all, they all deserve to be reviewed. And that’s why I introduced this article with a few words on Libeled Lady. In this situation, it is the blond Jean Harlow who is Spencer Tracy’s screen partner and they are joined by Myrna Loy and William Powell, whom, we know, always had an amazing on-screen chemistry. Even if Katharine wasn’t in the portrait in this 1936’s film, we can try to understand why she was interested in working with “the best movie actor there was” as she called him. After all, the man had many admirers in the movie business and Katharine Hepburn wasn’t the only one. Among them, we can also include Marlon Brando, Michael Caine, Joan Crawford and more.
If you like to laugh and love comedies like me, then 1936 is a year for you. In the silent department, we had the delightful Chaplin’s Modern Times, but some talking pictures such as My Man Godfrey, Wife vs. Secretary, Cain & Mabel, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and, of course, Libeled Lady made us laugh too. After all, the 30s are the Golden Age of the screwball comedy (which happens to be my favourite movie genre). Jack Conway’s film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (but lost to The Great Ziegfield) which is a proof that, sometimes, the Academy can be interested in comedies and not only in heavy dramas or epic historical pictures.
Libeled Lady is an opposition between high society and the world of journalism; those journalists who love gossip, but, sometimes, write stuff before thinking and then, have to face the consequences. Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) is the managing editor of the New-York Evening Star newspaper. His wedding day has finally arrived, but he soon has to call his fiancee Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow) and postpone it because his business is in trouble: his journalists have falsely accused the rich Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) of being a homewrecker. She and her father are suing the newspaper for the modest sum of 5 million dollars… Ouch! Warren decides to hire writer Bill Chandler (William Powell), who used to work for the Star before being fired by Warren himself, to take care of the problem. They develop one of those plans: Bill will get married and then manage to go to London and come back on the same boat as the Allenbury (who happen to be in the British city). His plan is to have a moment alone with Connie so she can be accused “for real” of being a homewrecker and, therefore, drop the case. Warren volunteers his own fiancee to become Bill’s wife, to what she objects firmly, but finally accepts in order to help. Bill does meet Connie on the boat and they do make acquaintance. However, things don’t go as expected.
During the shooting of Libeled Lady, the four actors became friends. Jean Harlow and William Powell were even engaged. Unfortunately, Jean died prematurely at the age of 26, in 1937, before they had time to get married. Libeled Lady was one of her last films. It is rumoured that Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy developed an affair during the shooting, but, of course, it is not a couple that would become as memorable as the Tracy-Hepburn one. 😉
If I’m not mistaken, Libeled Lady is the “oldest” Spencer Tracy’s film I saw. I immediately loved it the first time I saw it. I think it’s a movie that I should watch with my mother one of these days because I suspect it is the kind of film she would like. Plus, she’s already a bit familiar with Spencer Tracy, Woman of the Year being one of our typical mother-daughter films. So, while analysing his acting in this film, I realized that what makes Spencer Tracy a great actor is the fact that he makes acting look like something very easy to do. Nothing seems to be forced. He is a natural. We have the tendency to say that actors and actresses in old films were a bit theatrical (especially in silent films as they had to use their whole body to express an idea), but I wouldn’t include Tracy in this category. His acting was simple but effective. There was something very modern about it and I feel he could have defied time and be comfortable making modern 21st-century movies. We can easily call him a timeless actor.
If Spencer Tracy had a twin, an easy way to recognize him would be with that typical felt hat he often wears on the side of his head. Like this:
That is sooo him. And in, Libeled Lady, he doesn’t make an exception to this style. That’s how we like him. It is almost like Chaplin and his bowler hat or Buster Keaton and his boater.
If Katharine Hepburn wasn’t Spencer’s love interest in this film, he still forms an interesting couple with Jean Harlow. Of course, the chemistry isn’t as strong as the one he had with Kate, but it remains an interesting pair. I’ve noticed that Spencer Tracy often plays the role of a guy who gets opposed to his lady (Woman of the Year and Adam’s Rib would be good examples), but whom, in the end, truly loves her. Oh yes, we can say that Warren Haggerty doesn’t treat his wife super properly, sort spoiling what is supposed to be the happiest day of her life (her wedding) and involving her in his business problems. We, the public, can simply have compassion for Glady and admire her “patience”. Well, she doesn’t really “behave” patiently, but, in the end, she always accepts to make compromises.
The only problem with this Tracy-Harlow couple is the fact that they could be a bit overshadowed by Myrna Loy and William Powell. After all, those two formed one of the most appreciated on-screen couples of the 30s especially thanks to The Thin Man. Before I saw this film, I had heard that their chemistry in it was incredible, but I couldn’t believe it could be THAT incredible, but it was. And it still is in Libeled Lady. So, of course, they steal a bit the show… as a couple. If we look at them as separate individuals, they each mark their place brilliantly.
I love Libeled Lady, not only for its incomparable casting, but also for its comedic side. This one is, of course, embodied by the actors (William Powell is the funniest one in my opinion), but also by a screenplay truffled with hilarious quotes. William Powell saying “C’est un cheval!” (“It is a horse” in French) is perhaps my favourite thing about this film. It’s nothing very extraordinary to say, but I just love his voice tone when he says it. And of course, we have to be put in context:
Connie [worried because Bill doesn’t want to go to her bazar]: Bill, what is it?
Bill [looking at the horse]: What is it? It is a horse. C’est un cheval!
And here are a few of my other favourite quotes:
1- Warren Haggerty: Would I ask you to do this thing for me if I didn’t consider you practically my wife?
Gladys: Would you ask your wife to hook up with that ape?
Bill Chandler: The ape objects.
2- Warren Haggerty [about Gladys]: She may be his wife, but she’s engaged to me
3- Gladys: The things I do for that newspaper!
4- Gladys [to the maid] : Today is my wedding day!
Maid: What, again Mrs. Gladys?
5- Warren Haggerty: [introducing Gladys] Mr. Bane, my future wife.
Mr. Bane: Nonsense! I’ll be in my office. Get rid of this woman!
Libeled Lady can also be praised for its beautiful on-location shooting in the californian wilderness where Bill goes fishing with Connie and her father. This is also where you’ll see one of the most hilarious scenes of the film. They invited Bill to go fishing because he pretends he knows everything about this sport, but really, he doesn’t.
And how dreamy is that little cabin in the middle of the lake where we witness a short, but beautiful scene between Myrna Loy and William Powell.
If you’re in for a fun time and you haven’t seen Libeled Lady yet, you should definitely put it on your to-see list. After all, Katharine Hepburn did say of it that it was the funniest thing she ever saw. 😉 (Wikipedia)
I want to thank Crystal for hosting this blogathon! Please click on the following link to read the other entries:
The Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon
You might have noticed that I hadn’t published any review for a long time. It was good to be back!