Libeled Lady 1936 Directed by Jack Conway. When a drunk reporter libels heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) in front page headlines, she sues the New York Evening Star for five million dollars. Managing editor Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) leaves fiancé Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow) waiting at the church in order to try to fix the situation before his newspaper goes down in flames. His plan is to send reprobate reporter/ ladies man Bill Chandler (William Powell) to maneuver Connie into a compromised situation (to be photographed) broken up by Bill’s wife.
In order to make the scheme work, Chandler marries Gladys (who will get an annulment when the issue is taken care of), sails to Southampton in order to return on the same ship as Connie and her tycoon father (Walter Connolly), and despite several mishaps insinuates himself into their lives. In the process he unexpectedly falls in love with Connie, Gladys becomes sweet on him, Warren is apoplectic.
Harlow and Powell were an off-screen couple, and she wanted to play Connie, so that her character and Powell’s wound up together. MGM insisted that the film be another William Powell-Myrna Loy vehicle as originally intended. During filming, Harlow changed her legal name from Harlean Carpenter McGrew Bern Rosson to Jean Harlow. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Too Hot To Handle 1938 Directed by Jack Conway. Newsreel cameramen Chris Hunter (Clark Gable) and Bill Dennis (Walter Pigeon) are vying for the same film in war-torn China. Neither can get images of overhead bombers flying too high. Chris fakes footage with a toy plane, sending it to New York as actual. (This would be comic if it weren’t so plausible.) Bill then arranges for pilot Alma Harding (Myrna Loy) to pretend to deliver cholera vaccine – a story the others will run. Chris finds out and arriving in an ambulance crowds the runway, causing a crash. He then rescues Alma.
Soundman Jose (Leo Carrillo) captures both the rescue and macho Chris telling his editor he’ll edit to glorify Alma, bring her to New York, and “teach her to be a woman.” Bill switches film cans, cuts out damaging audio, and sends it to his boss. Competition continues with blackmail and deception. When Alma’s search for her brother lost in the Amazon becomes central, both men connive to make the trip, but tackle it separately.
An engaging action thriller with twists and turns, a smidge of romance, and overall satire. Many of the gags were devised by uncredited Buster Keaton. Amazon dance ceremonies are real, shot with permission from the tribe. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House 1948 Adaptation of the novel by Eric Hodgens. Directed by HC Potter. Account executive Jim Blandings (Cary Grant) and his wife Muriel (Myrna Loy) are suckered into buying “the old Hackett place” in Connecticut. The ramshackle 200 year-old farmhouse is perceived as a fixer-upper, but in fact, is in such poor shape overhaul is structural. An architect is hired. Cost- $18,000 ($191,500 today). Friend/ lawyer Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas) castigates his naïve clients. Every pitfall that can occur does, repeatedly postponing move-in date.
On top of swelling expenses/house pressures, Jim is assigned the worst account in the business, one whose elusive slogan sank several peers. He’s also suspicious that Muriel might be cheating. Everything works out of course. This film begat 1986’s The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelly Long. Warm and droll.
Time Magazine said “Blandings may turn out to be too citified for small-town audiences, and incomprehensible abroad; but among those millions of Americans who have tried to feather a country nest with city greenbacks, it ought to hit the jackpot.” As a promotion for the film, the studio built 73 “dream houses” in various locations, selling some of them by raffle. Rent on Amazon Prime.
ALL the marvelous Thin Man Films with William Powell.
Twentieth Century 1934 Adapted from the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur play which itself was based on the unproduced play Napoleon of Broadway by Charles Bruce Millholland about his experiences working for legendary, eccentric Broadway producer David Belasco. Directed by Howard Hawkes. An unadulterated, rapid-fire, screwball comedy with John Barrymore in his last great film role and Carole Lombard propelled to the top at the start of hers. Its scenario takes place on the 20th Century Limited (train) from Chicago to New York City.
Manic, egotistical Broadway impresario Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) transformed lingerie model protegée Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard) into successful actress “Lily Garland.” Sick of his possessiveness, she left him for Hollywood and became a star. Deep in debt from successive flops and escaping creditors, Oscar boards the train in disguise. When Lily gets on with hunk boyfriend Ralph Forbes (George Smith), the producer hatches a plan to get her back. He lies to George and offers Lily the trumped-up dramatic role of a lifetime. A potential backer is not what he seems; Oscar gets wounded and milks it…
Apparently Lombard wasn’t acting sufficiently feisty for the role. Hawks asked her what she would do if a man said “something” about her, coming up with an insult. Lombard said, “I would kick him in the balls.” Hawks said, “Well, Barrymore said that, so why don’t you kick him?” She resumed with newfound vigor. The actors became friends. Rent on Amazon Prime.
My Man Godfrey 1936 can be found in Stream Leading Men of a Certain Era at a Certain Age
Nothing Sacred 1937 (restored) based on the story “Letter to the Editor” by James H. Street. Directed by William Wellman. A turbaned sultan, ostensibly supporting a large cultural center, is unmasked as a bootblack at a charity event. Star reporter Wallace Cook (Fredric March) is blamed and relegated to Obituaries. In order to get back in good grace with editor Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), he promises to deliver the in-depth sob story of Hazel Scott (Carole Lombard), a Vermont girl dying of radium poisoning. The New England town is unwelcoming, but Wallace runs into Hazel by accident.
Having made peace with her death, the young woman is disconcerted to learn that family doctor Enoch Downer (Charles Winninger) made a mistake in his diagnosis – she’s fine. Hazel was counting on money donated to someone in her position in order to see New York before she died. She leaves the doctor’s crying and is ambushed by Wallace who offers all New York has to offer in exchange for a series of exclusives. She doesn’t tell him the truth, of course. A private plane transports the newsman, Hazel and Doctor Downer.
Wining and dining (by Wallace), ribbon cutting, the key to the city, a wardrobe (of course), constant applause, a poem by the national laureate, and a posh hotel suite are gifted to the “doomed girl hailed belle of New York.” At some point Wallace’s “poor, brave kid” turns into love and the equally smitten Hazel wrestles with her conscience. When outside medical specialists are called in, the truth comes out. Oliver, Wallace, and Hazel all have different, clashing ideas how to save face. All four leads play signature characters.
The first screwball comedy filmed in color. One of three Ben Hecht screenplays that are comedies on the surface, but underneath depict underhanded practices of newspapers determined to get the story by any means. (The others are The Front Page and its remake His Girl Friday.) Hecht wrote a role for his friend John Barrymore but the alcoholic actor was deemed too high a risk. When denied, Hecht walked off the production. Free with Amazon Prime.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith 1941 Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (the only comedy he made in America). Ann and David Smith (Carole Lombard and George Montgomery) discover their three year-old Idaho marriage is invalid due to a jurisdictional mishap. When he invites her to dinner at a restaurant they frequented during courtship, she’s sure he’ll propose. The venue has become so run down, they return home. As he hasn’t spoken up, Ann accuses David of not wanting to marry her again and kicks him out.
Spying, he sees her with a new suitor/boss and gets her fired. David’s friend Jefferson “Jeff” Custer (Gene Raymond) agrees to speak for him but instead gets involved with Ann. Playacting, miscommunication, and bad timing complicate things-until the couple sees the light. Mr. & Mrs. Smith was the last film released before Lombard’s death. To Be or Not to Be (1942) was her final film, released two months after she died in an aircraft crash while on a War Bond tour. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Featured photo: Public domain promotional photograph for the film The Thin Man starring Myrna Loy and William Powell, with Skippy as Asta.