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  Libeled Lady Publish And Be Damned
Year: 1936
Director: Jack Conway
Stars: Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Walter Connolly, Charley Grapewin, Cora Witherspoon, E.E. Clive, Bunny Beatty, Otto Yamaoka, Charles Trowbridge, Spencer Charters, George Chandler, William 'Billy' Benedict, Hal K. Dawson
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Stop the presses! There's a big problem - the headline story on the front page is all wrong, the fifty million dollar heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) isn't breaking up anyone's marriage at all, it's all been a misunderstanding! But it's too late for the Star, as they have distributed copies to a few outlets already, and that counts as being published, so the editor Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) is now in deep trouble should she decide to take legal action. On this, his wedding day of all days, so he must call off his union to Gladys (Jean Harlow) for now to get this kerfuffle sorted out, much to her chagrin as he seems to have been delaying the big day for far too long now. But he can live with that, what he cannot live with is being sued for five million dollars...

That would bankrupt the paper, which for Haggerty would be a disaster, though this was one of countless Hollywood movies from the nineteen-thirties to set its tale in journalism, and usually though there was a cynical good humour about those, in certain examples there was clearly no love lost between the dream factory and the media that relied on it for gossip to sell itself to the scandal hungry public. Haggerty is such a conniving character that you find yourself not caring one way or the other if he keeps his establishment together or not; it may have been a screwball comedy but was notably unforgiving in its portrayal of the lengths the papers would go to for that killer story, and if there was any cast member who could sympathise with that it was Harlow.

Recently she had lost her studio executive husband in mysterious circumstances, probably suicide, which had put the pressure on her media profile to near-intolerable degrees, but she had picked herself up and started a new relationship with William Powell, though to her frustration he was reluctant to make a good woman of her and become her third husband. Making Libeled Lady with him proved to be very helpful to their relationship, however, as all four stars had a great time on the set, which doesn't always translate to a great result for the audience, yet in this case the fun was infectious, buoying the mood over a script that in truth could have done with a lot more funny lines. That power of celebrity forgave a lot, however.

Of course, Harlow just had months to live thanks to her failing kidneys, leaving her one more Hollywood star who died too young, though this was through no fault of her own. She did make two more films before her untimely demise, but this was her true swan song, she did not look well in the efforts she shot before she left us, yet here he is a bundle of energy in possibly her best comedy performance. She always displayed a talent for humour, it was part of her appeal that she could come across as in on the jokes that were made about her - she was a controversial figure for her supposed loose morals - and seeing her match wits with three other actors of such magnitude was a real tonic, especially when they seemed to be genuinely enjoying each other's company, which indeed they were.

As for the plot, it was Loy who played the title role, effortlessly sophisticated paired with Powell for by no means the first or last time, their chemistry was one of the most enduring in the movies. Powell's hard up lawyer Bill Chandler is called upon by Haggerty for a complicated scheme that will see him marry Gladys, much to her indignant protests (see the famous scene where she gives Powell a peck at the marriage, then kisses best man Tracy passionately, confusing the Justice of the Peace), then armed with that seeks to seduce Connie so she can be caught up in a manufactured scandal and drop the lawsuit. Even if you've never seen a screwball comedy before, you'll be able to see the issues with this plan, and Haggerty is such a louse and Chandler such a gent (Powell being the suavest man in Hollywood) that both Connie and Gladys fall for him. Although it was rarely hilarious, Libeled Lady worked up a fine head of steam as far as its momentum went, and just spending time with these talents was reward enough. Howard Hawks was impressed - he lifted much of it for Man's Favorite Sport? decades later. Music (sounding like it belongs in a cartoon) by William Axt.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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