Thursday, August 16, 2012

Libeled Lady (1936)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Director: Jack Conway
Starring: Jean Harlow, Willaim Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy

Discovering a successful spark in comedic chemistry on screen,  MGM once again teams William Powell and Myrna Loy together in humorous picture Libeled Lady. Powell with his intelligence and charm, Loy with her beauty and wit, are joined by fellow stars and frontliners in their own right Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy in a story of false romance that turns into true love. With big stars and a well written comedic script, Libeled Lady is a fun feature filled with small twists and lined with humor.

Libeled Lady is a comedy surrounding the tale of a wealthy lady threatening to sue a major newspaper over a false story, and the schemes of men to free the paper of its eminent downfall via the lawsuit. After a false story of an affair that accidently slides onto the front page of the New York Evening Star, the very wealthy Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) sets to sue the paper for libel at the price of $5 million, effectively bankrupting the paper. It is up to editor Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) to think of something that will stop this lawsuit, all this at the behest of continually putting off his wedding to the very eager to married fiancée to be, Gladys (Jean Harlow). Haggerty schemes with old rival and ladies man Bill Chandler (William Powell) with the idea of Chandler posing as a married man that starts an affair with Connie effectively ruining her image and forcing her to drop the suit.

The scheme goes to great lengths to make it work, including a marriage set up between Chandler and Haggerty’s hesitant fiancée, Gladys, despite her troubles with the situation, all for the sake to make the planned story all the more devastating to Connie’s image. Things get problematic as Connie at first is too smart to get mixed in with Chandler and his ladies man ways, then turning to a mutual admiration towards each other and eventual growth of a true romantic relationship between the two. Meanwhile Gladys too comes to be quite fond of Chandler’s ways. All these relationships boil to a conclusion of mix marriages and puzzling piecing together of the truth, but ultimately concludes with both couple together and happy.

Here with Libeled Lady we have a classic screwball comedy, with an outlandish idea of a story that sets for many humorous events to turn up, concluding in a quick ending that cleans up story all too coincidentally. With a clever and amusing script, along with four actors at or near their primes as stars, it produces a fun comedy to be enjoyed.

Directed by the longtime veteran filmmaker and former actor Jack Conway, whose credits include recently Tarzan and His Mate, Viva Villa, and A Tale of Two Cities, Libeled Lady has the advantage of a director with a range and skill with screen experience. With nothing flashy about the story or cinematography, Conway does get some very good performances out of his stars, allowing for good comedic timing from all four.

Despite not being one of the two primary characters, Jean Harlow would receive top billing on the cast. Having recently brought great success with her recent picture, Suzy, Harlow had brought in good box office numbers to MGM as she had developed into a decent actress after her sexier, naïve, younger days. Going into the feature she was in a relationship co-star William Powell and the two fought hard for her to play the role of Gladys, ending with Harlow and Powell as the primary couple at the conclusion, but MGM was adamant to make Libeled Lady another vehicle for a Powell/Loy combination. From this Harlow the role of Connie which still allows her to share a number of scenes with Powell as husband and wife, partaking in a number of humorous scenes. Harlow would be held back from production for a week due to illness from a severe sunburn, an illness that would unfortunately mask her true body’s battle with kidney failure which would sadly take her life in 1937.

Myrna Loy after finding strong footing in Hollywood with her success in Manhattan Melodrama and even more so teamed with William Powell in The Thin Man, she found herself to be a highly coveted piece of property for MGM, primarily teaming her with Powell in many features. Libeled Lady would be her fifth pairing with her male counterpart on screen, which was quickly followed by a sixth in the sequel to the film that made her a star with After the Thin Man. Co-star Spencer Tracy rounded out the cast of leading actors, he being ever rising star in MGM with great range in comedy as well as drama. It is rumored that Tracy and Loy would come to be quite fond of each other through this feature, leading to an affair. Walter Connelly, who played Loy’s father in the picture would aid in the comedic setting of the picture, playing the overall straight man of the film, which any good comedy in a way needs.

The picture was another success at the box office for MGM and earned itself a nomination for best picture at that year’s Academy Awards, while being one of just a few picture to ever receive such recognition without being nominated for any other category. (This feat happened before with another MGM picture in 1932 with Grand Hotel.) Libeled Lady would lose the Academy Award to yet another Powell/Loy picture The Great Ziegfeld, manifesting just how great William Powell and Myrna Loy was to MGM during the year of 1936, but especially in witty comedies such as Libeled Lady.

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