The on-screen chemistry between Myrna Loy and William Powell is well documented – a cinematic partnership that resulted in 14 films, including their famous recurring roles as the husband-and-wife detective team Nick and Nora in The Thin Man series. Something I have not seen discussed as much is the role director W. S. Van Dyke played in the couple’s success. Of the 14 films, Van Dyke directed six of them – Manhattan Melodrama, I Love You Again, and the first four installments of The Thin Man series (he very well might have done the final two installments as well, had it not been for his early death in 1943). These films are certainly among Myrna Loy and William Powell’s most notable collaborations.

While the wife and I are enthusiastic fans of Loy and Powell both separately and together, it was not until recently that we had the chance to view I Love You Again for the first time. This screwball comedy might not be as polished and entertaining as The Thin Man films, but it nonetheless is an enjoyable and comedic film. It’s plot (which has sizable and obvious holes that really annoyed the Mrs.) begins with the boring miser Larry Wilson (Powell) loym30.jpgon a cruise annoying the other guests with his insistence on clean living and sobriety. The thing is – Wilson isn’t Wilson. He’s actually George Carey, a crafty con-man and Wilson’s complete opposite, but a bout of amnesia several years ago wiped the slate clean and allowed this new persona to develop. When Wilson falls overboard and receives a blow to the head, Carey resurfaces. Carey’s discovery that in the nine intervening years since he was last conscious Wilson has seemingly amassed a great deal of wealth and also landed a beautiful wife (Loy) causes him to decide to continue the charade long enough to cash in. (If it seems confusing and nonsensical, that’s because it is.)

In lesser hands, this plot could have easily fallen flat on its face. But with Van Dyke, Powell, and Loy, it turns out to be quite a bit of fun. Unlike The Thin Man films, this film relies more heavily upon Powell’s individual talents rather than Powell and Loy’s chemistry. One obviously can’t go wrong with William Powell, so this isn’t a bad thing, but fans looking for more Nick-and-Nora magic might be disappointed. You don’t really hear a lot about this film (in fact, you can only find a DVD of the film in a 4-disc Myrna Loy/William Powell box set), and it’s by no means perfect. Yet this relatively quiet reputation only helps to make it one of those pleasant little surprise discoveries that all classic film fans are only too happy to make.

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Libeled Lady (1936)

September 14, 2006

Wow. Our house has been on fire with the movie selections lately. Not only did we see one of the best film noirs I’d seen in a while, The Big Heat, but we followed that effort up last night with libeled.jpgone of the best screwballs I’ve seen in quite some time – Libeled Lady, starring Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, William Powell, and Spencer Tracy. Newspaper editor Warren Haggerty (Tracy) fears an erroneous article about Connie Allenbury (Loy) will have him sued for libel. Desperate, he hatches an elaborate plot where he makes his own fiancee Gladys (Harlow) marry Bill Chandler (Powell). He then sends Bill on an amorous hunt after Connie, hoping to get the young socialite caught up in a scandal with a married man.

The script for this film is great – it keeps you interested and laughing throughout. But as you might expect from a cast like this, it’s the acting that really carries this film. Looking over the filmographies for the stars, I was shocked by how good a year 1936 was, particularly for Powell and Loy. Not only did they both also co-star in The Great Ziegfeld and After the Thin Man that year, but Loy also starred in Wife Versus Secretary (which also featured Harlow) and Powell starred in My Man Godfrey. Tracy, too, was in some quality films that year, including Fury and San Francisco. Clearly, this film is one of those classics of the mid-30s, when studios were simply cranking out one quality production on top of another. But what’s really great about it is that it brings together so many top-flight actors at the top of their games. Furthermore, even though MGM clearly focused its advertising for the film on the stars themselves, this isn’t a case where the studio just blindly put together as many recognizable names as possible. Rather, the chemistry among all four of the stars really works. As a result, one can come to this single film and find a sampling of fine acting by four of the 30s biggest box-office draws.

With all its role reversing, mistaken identity, and reluctant romance, this film has many of the classic screwball elements and would make an entertaining introduction for somebody new to the genre. It was made at a time when screwball comedy was really beginning to find its form, as were the stars, directors, and studios charged with bringing the films to life.