Comedy Time: Libeled Lady (1936)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

Poor Gladys!

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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.

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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!

See you!

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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #3: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My third review was for the 1956’s classic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World directed by Stanley Kramer. Enjoy!

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It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. When one movie title has the word “mad” four times it’s because it needs it to be isotopic. We’re indeed talking about one of the craziest movies of all time. Stanley Kramer brilliantly directed the film in 1963; Kramer directed such masterpieces as Judgment at Nuremberg, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. He was also an important producer, producing well-known classics The Wild One and High Noon. What we also absolutely need to mention is this was Stanley Kramer’s first comedy. Awesome isn’t it? Of course, if you haven’t watched the movie yet, you don’t really know what I’m boasting about, but just wait and see.

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You may wonder what this movie is about. Well, it goes like this: Before he dies in a car accident on a California road, Smiler Gordan, a burglar who just came out of prison, tells a secret to the drivers who stopped to help him: he has a fortune, $350.000 buried in a park in Santa Rosita under a big “W.” He tells them if they find the money, they can keep it. The drivers go back to their cars. They each go their separate ways with the idea to go get the money.

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They finally decide to stop and talk together to make a fair arrangement and try to split the money in the most equal way. However, there’s always someone who is not satisfied, so they decide to give up the good manners and a breathless chase starts. Who will get the money first? The drivers don’t know they’re being watched by the police and, on their way, they face many challenges, meeting other people who will become part of the chase too. The most insane thing about this is they are not a hundred percent sure Smiler was telling the truth.

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This film is like a cup of strong coffee. So many things and surprises happen it keeps your attention from the beginning until the end. Even if it’s a two hour and thirty minute film, you can’t feel time passing because it is so entertaining. I remember the first time I saw it, I didn’t want it to stop. I was so captivated by the action and the characters (we’ll talk about them later). Even the five minute opening credits are enjoyable. Saul Bass, probably the most famous graphic designer for film credits, created them. With these opening titles, you know what kind of movie you’re about to watch immediately.

Here I come to the all-star cast including Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Milton Berle, Sid Ceasar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Jim Backus, Dorothy Provine and many more. Among the main actors we notice many famous comic actors doing cameos: Joe E. Brown, Buster Keaton, Jack Benny, The Three Stooges, Zasu Pitts, Jerry Lewis, etc. Of course, all those actors give us some tremendous performances, but what’s the most interesting are not the actors themselves, but the colorful characters they play.

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All the actors in the main cast have their importance, their own well-developed personality. It’s one of those films where it’s hard determining your favorite character, because they are all so interesting. My personal favorites are Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters) and Lt. Col. J. Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas). I can perfectly see a group of teens, after seeing this film, asking themselves: “Hey, which actor/character did you like the most in the film?” What’s also special about this is it’s hard to determine who the main character is. Some may say it’s Captain T. G. Culpeper (Spencer Tracy). They may be right, but I’m not a hundred percent sure about that.

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This movie is crazy, sure, but not stupid. Yes, some characters are, but the movie itself is not. The film was not only well directed, but the technique is quite impressive too. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World received the Oscar for Best Sound Editing (and really deserved it) and was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Recording, Best Music Score and Best Original Song. We also have to mention this film was in 3rd position in the 1963 box office behind Cleopatra and How the West Was Won. I mention this because teens these days tend to see the top box office film and it’s not always a masterpiece. So, if they want to see box office success, why not delve into classic films and watch something like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?

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Top of the World: Bette Davis, Gregory Peck and Spencer Tracy in Tops Five

April 5 is an important date on our calendar as three major movie stars were born on this day: Bette Davis, Gregory Peck and Spencer Tracy (and also Melvyn Douglas, Frank Gorshin and Walter Huston). To pay a tribute to them, I’ve decided to present you 3 little top 5 of 1- my favourite Bette Davis’ films, 2- my favourite Gregory Peck’s films and 3- my favourite Spencer Tracy’s films. These actors are all personal favourites and it’s been a long time since I haven’t post a traditional top list on this blog!

Remember that these are my personal choices, so thanks in advance for respecting them!

Bette Davis Top 5 Favourite Films

5- Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Robert Aldrich, 1964)

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4- The Letter (William Wyler, 1940)

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3- Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942)

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2- All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)

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1- Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962)

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Gregory Peck Top 5 Favourite Films

5- The Big Country (William Wyler, 1958)

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4- Cape Fear (Martin Scorsese, 1991) – Yes, I do prefer the remake, even if Peck doesn’t have the leading role.

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3- To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)

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2- Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945)

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1- Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)

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Spencer Tracy Top 5 Films

5- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (Stanley Kramer, 1967)

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4- Father of the Bride (Vincente Minnelli, 1950)

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3- Woman of the Year (George Steven, 1942)

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2- Libeled Lady (Jack Conway)

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1- It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (Stanley Kramer, 1963)

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Well, that’s that! Don’t hesitate to share your favourites!

A happy heavenly birthday to all these marvellous stars!

The Vincente Minnelli Blogathon: The Pleasures of Father of the Bride (1950)

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This weekend, my friend Michaela, blogger at Love Letters to Old Hollywood, is hosting her very first blogathon: The Vincente Minelli Blogathon! Minelli was well-known for his musicals such as Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris or Gigi. I must admit, I really haven’t seen many of his movies, but my favourite is, without a doubt, Father of the Bride. Unlike the one I’ve previously mentioned, this one isn’t a Technicolor musical, but a simple black and white comedy.
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This 1950s’ film stars Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett, Don Taylor, Billie Burke, Leo G. Carroll Moroni Olsen and even Russ Tamblyn in a small role. The story is very simple: Kay Banks (Taylor), the daughter of Ellie (Bennett) and Stanley (Tracy) Banks, wants to get married to Buckley Dunstan ( Don Taylor). However, her father can’t get the idea of “losing” a daughter and is not sure Buckley is the right man for her. But that is in vain, as a 250 persons wedding finally begins to be organized by him and his wife. The film is mostly about the wedding’s preparations and the wedding itself.
Father of the Bride is an easy-watching movie. It’s a perfect film to view with your family to simply share a good laugh and an agreeable moment. No stress here, and no boring moments. On its release, it was a commercial success. The film was also nominated for a Best Picture Award at the 1951’s Oscars. A remake has been made in 1991 with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton (and also a sequel), but I believe it’s not as good as the original one.
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On my side, the main reason why I first decided to watch this film was because of Joan Bennett, and actress that I found most interesting and that I was beginning to discover. But of course, the idea that she was co-starring with Spencer Tracy and my twin Elizabeth Taylor was most appealing too! This was a very interesting Joan Bennett’s role for me to see as I was mostly used to her darker characters in Fritz Langs’ films or as the coquette Amy March in Little Women. But Joan Bennett proves that she can also be excellent as a simple family mother. She hasn’t lost her beauty and is radiant as always. There’s a lot of tenderness and warmth in her acting. This one remains simple, without any extravagances, but can still touch us. It was just the perfect dose for the type of character she had to play. Without any surprises, Spence Tracy first wanted Katharine Hepburn to play his wife, but as they were known as a too “romantic” couple, it seems they wouldn’t have been suitable as an ordinary married couple. (IMDB) I love Kate and Spencer duos, but I must admit it’s nice to see Spencer paired with other ladies! However, I don’t really agree with the reasons why Kate wasn’t cast in the role and I’m sure she would have done a fine job, just like Joan.
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Liz Taylor couldn’t have been a better choice as Joan Bennett’s daughter. Physically, they share a certain resemblance. Both have those black hair and this delicate figure that makes them look like mysterious and fragile beauties. Interestingly, both actresses played the role of Amy March in cinematography adaptations of Little Women.(IMDB) For her role, Liz gave the right dose of innocence to a girl that is said to be very young to be married. At the time the film was made, Liz was only around 18, but she seems a bit older, and in a good way. She’s not just a teenage girl, but also a real lady full of elegance. Her acting game as Kay contains softness, but also with a living energy. Despite her young age and the fact that she’s a bit treated like a child by her fictional father, I think it’s interesting to mention that, in 1950, 6 weeks before the film’s premiere, Elizabeth got married for real and for the first time, to “Nicky” Conrad Hilton Jr.
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Spencer Tracy plays the lead in this film and he’s just…perfect! Not only his acting, but also his narration. His voice tone is exactly right for the atmosphere of the film. I think the narrative moment I like the most is when he talks about Kay’s many boyfriends. Just cracks me up, especially when he starts with “Was it the one with the teeth?”
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Spencer was one of those actors that didn’t have to do much to gain our sympathy. Some of his facial expressions, and that’s the case for any movie he’s in, simply worth a million. He also has a very paternal figure, which suits perfectly his role in Father of the Bride. What I enjoyed the most about his character in the film, is the fact that he’s always trying to be subtle, but he’s not. Think of this moment while he is looking to  Buckley coming to their home, hidden behind the curtains. Simply hilarious! Even if Joan Bennett was not Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy makes a beautiful couple with her. As “normal middle-class parents” they were convincing enough. As for the role of the father, the fact that Stanley can’t get the idea of “losing” his girl was perfectly embodied by Spencer Tracy. He really makes us believe the attachment he has for his fictional daughter and shows a beautiful chemistry with Elizabeth Taylor. Spencer Tracy received an Oscar nomination for his performance.
When I re-watched the film for the blogathon, I didn’t remember who played Kay’s fiancĂ©, but when I saw Don Taylor’s, his face curiously rang a bell. From the film, of course, but I was sure I had seen him somewhere else. He plays William Holden’s friend in Stalag 17, so that’s probably the film I was probably thinking about (because I don’t think I’ve seen any other), but somehow he looks like another actor. I can’t say who! Anyway, if you have any ideas, please tell me. In an important supporting role, he does an appreciable job. He’s humble and doesn’t take too much place, which was perfect for his character. He might not be the most memorable one of the lot, but he shines in his own way.
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This is the main quartet, but some other actors deserve honourable mentions such as Billie Burke, who plays  Buckley’s mother. I had forgotten she was in the film, but when I saw her, I knew she would be a great support as she always is. Moroni Olsen who plays his husband is the perfect sympathetic fellow and encourages a smile on our face. Leo G. Carroll is often associated with Hitchcock’s, so it is nice to see him in a different kind of film! He gives the perfect touch of snobbism to his character.
With Father of the Bride, we have the proof that a movie doesn’t have to be based on something complicated to be good. Hey, it’s basically the story of a girl who prepares her wedding. Just a bit like 12 Angry Men, which is the story of 12 jurors who debates on the innocence of a boy condemn to death for murder. That goes without saying that the story contains surprises and an interesting development that makes it unique in its own genre. It is NOT just about wedding preparations, but also about family relationships. The fact that the whole thing is seen from the father’s point of view makes it very interesting too and different. It probably would have been something completely different if it would have been seen from Kay’s point of view for example. Of from  Buckley’s point of view. Just imagine!
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As a comedy, the film contains many moments of hilarity, but those are always added with beautiful tact so the film won’t lose its initial class. Father of the Bride is a refine comedy, which suits perfectly well to Liz Taylor, Joan Bennett, and Spencer Tracy. Could we say it’s a screwball comedy? This genre was mostly at its golden age in the 30’s and the early 40’s, but as it uses the theme of the wedding (an important theme in screwballs), we could say that it is a post-screwball comedy. It can also be the case because of its bright well-thought lines. The script, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on  Edward Streeter’s novel of the same time, was nominated for an Oscar.

1- Ben Banks: Can’t be June. I’ve got my final. Why not May?

Ellie Banks: May’s too early.

Tommy Banks: July’s out. I’m going to camp.

Kay Banks: This isn’t a kids party. It’s my wedding and my friends.

2- Stanley T. Banks: No one paid any attention to the orchestra. Ellie could have saved that 85 bucks!

3- Stanley T. Banks: I would like to say a few words about weddings. I’ve just been through one. Not my own. My daughter’s. Someday in the far future I may be able to remember it with tender indulgence, but not now. I always used to think that marriages were a simple affair. Boy meets girl. Fall in love. They get married. Have babies. Eventually the babies grow up and meet other babies. They fall in love. Get married. Have babies. And so on and on and on. Looked at that way, it’s not only simple, it’s downright monotonous. But I was wrong. I figured without the wedding.
Apart from the good lines, the film is sprinkled with memorable moments. One of my favourite is when Stanley has prepared a ton of martini’s for the party, but everybody is ordering something else. Poor Mr. Banks! The meeting between Kay and  Buckley’s parents is pretty delightful too, just like the wedding itself.These are just a few examples, so you’ll have to see the film to discover more of them!
However, one that cannot be missed is when we first see Kay in her wedding dress. A simply magical moment for our eyes. The wedding gown was designed by Edith Head, so it could be nothing, but beautiful. I also love the dress Joan Bennett is wearing at the wedding. When Spencer Tracy sees his two favourite ladies at the top of their elegance he certainly is as much flabbergasted as we are!
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Father of the Bride is a movie that can easily be described as “simply delightful”. There are no uneccessary extravagances in it so it remains much pleasant to watch. I spent an agreeable time writing about it and I want to thanks Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood for giving me the opportunity to do so!
Don’t forget to take a look at the other entries 🙂
Tata!
Ps: It’s funny because while I was finishing writing this my sister told me that there was an old movie on television. I went to take a look at it was Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me it St. Louis! Fun coincidence. 🙂
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