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.