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 Timesbut 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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The Contagious Dynamism of Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey

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Last January 16 marked the 75th anniversary of Carole Lombard’s passing. This luminous actress tragically lost her life at the young age of 33 in a plane crash. To honour her memory, my friends Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Laura from Phyllis Loves Classic Movies are hosting the Carole Lombard: The Profane Angel Blogathon. The event started on January 16 and is coming at its end today. I still haven’t seen a bunch of Carole Lombard’s films (six, I think), but just to see one was enough for me to appreciate her. So, I obviously couldn’t miss the occasion. My choice for the blogathon is My Man Godfrey, a 1936 screwball directed by Gregory LaCava and also starring William Powell (Carole Lombard’s first husband before Clark Gable). Carole Lombard received her first and, unfortunately, only Oscar nomination for her dynamic performance in this picture. It was also nominated for Best Director (LaCava), Best Actor (Powell), Best Supporting Actor (Mischa Auer), Best Supporting Actress (Alice Brady) and Best Screenplay (Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind). Interestingly, My Man Godfrey was the first film to be nominated in all the four acting categories (Wikipedia). I personally think all the cast deserved a nomination!

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My Man Godfrey presents a clash of societies during the Great Depression. It all starts when Irene (Lombard) and her sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) Bullock detrain in a dump to find a “forgotten man” for a scavenger hunt. Cornelia sees one, Godfrey (Powell) and offers him 5$ to be her “forgotten man”. Annoyed by the idea, he asks her to leave. While he advances towards her, she falls in a pile of ashes. She leaves, bitter and angry. Irene, who is a much likeable character, stays, and Godfrey suggests to be her forgotten man to beat Cornelia at the contest. After Irene’s team win thanks to Godfrey and after he meets her family, she gives him their address as they need a new butler. So, the next morning, Godfrey arrives at their place to be hired for the job. He soon realizes that the Bullock is far from being an ordinary family (except maybe for the father played by Eugene Pallette), but he turns out to have a pretty good endurance. He, however, has to face Cornelia’s shenanigans against him and soon realizes that Irene is deeply in love with him an who had decided to make him her “protégé”.

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There are so many things happening in My Man Godfrey. The moments of calm are rare, so, if you haven’t seen it, I can assure you, you won’t be bored.

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It’s not without any reason that I personally like to call Carole Lombard “the queen of comedy” and My Man Godfrey is the proof that she was. I mean, she could play drama well too, but I believe she would mostly be remembered for her perfect comic timing. She and William Powell weren’t married anymore at the time they made the movie together (they divorced in 1933), but interestingly, it’s William Powell that suggested Carole for the part. IMDB informs us that it’s because their real life relationship was similar to Irene and Godfrey’s one. Miriam Hopkins and Constance Bennett were among the choices for the part of Irene, but to Powell’s eyes, Carole was the perfect one for the part. And he was right! She’s hilarious from the beginning until the end.

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What I’ve always liked about Carole Lombard is the when you see pictures of her, “staged pictures”, she can look very serious and dramatic, but when you see My Man Godfrey or Nothing Sacred, you realize that you have been fooled and that she is, in reality, a real clown. Although, she doesn’t look like a clown, but like a very distinguished lady, who could play comedy.

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In My Man Godfrey, Carole Lombard is… motivating. Seriously, I couldn’t pick a better world. Her energy is contagious and makes you want to be like her, even if she’s a little crazy. As we would say in French “elle fait la comédie” (“she plays the comedy”) and becomes tragic to fool people around her or to show her deception about something. But, as we know, she’s kind of faking it, so it remains hilarious. Irene Bullock makes me think a little of Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) in Bringing Up Baby, a lady who will never be ready to give up her man hunt!

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Carole makes a good team work with her fellow actors. Her chemistry with Powell is unbelievable and that might be one of the best things about the film. Her opposition with Cornelia (Gail Patrick) is perfect. They are like real sisters if you see what I mean. 😉

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Something I also like about Carole Lombard is the fact that she has some of the best lines. I think that along with Network’s ” I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore”, “Godfrey loves me! He put me in the shower!” is my favourite movie line. It doesn’t make much sense, plus Carole’s facial expression when she says it is priceless. So, it remains a pretty hilarious moment.

Here are some other Carol Lombard’s quotes from My Man Godfrey that are quite memorable and reflects quite well the atmosphere of the film:

1- Godfrey: Do you think you could follow an intelligent conversation for a minute?

Irene: I’ll try.

2- Irene: You have a wonderful sense of humor. I wish I had a sense of humor, but I can never think of the right thing to say until everybody’s gone home.

3- Godfrey: These flowers just came for you, miss. Where shall I put them?

Irene: What difference does it make where one puts flowers when one’s heart is breaking?

Godfrey: Yes, miss. Shall I put them on the piano?

4- Irene: Life is but an empty bubble. (That’s deep haha.)

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As we were honouring Carole Lombard in this blogathon, I mostly decided to focus on her for my article, but, of course, there will be many other things to discuss. I’ll leave you with that fun movie bloopers video for your own entertainment. Enjoy! 🙂

 

A big thanks to Laura and Crystal for hosting this event! You can read the other entries by click on this picture:

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Carole Lombard left us too soon, but she’ll be in our hearts forever ❤ RIP beautiful angel.

See you!

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Seriously, isn’t that the cutest face ever?