Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2021) on… Libeled Lady (1936)

Today, we’ve got some fun with the 1936 screwball comedy Libeled Lady, starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy!  But first, we’ve got a few theatrical shorts to start us off with!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Keystone Hotel (1935)

(available as an extra on the Libeled Lady Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 14 minutes, 53 seconds)

Count Drewa Blanc (Ben Turpin) has to choose the winner of a beauty contest at the Keystone Hotel, but everybody is trying to tell him who to pick.  This short was a lot of fun!  I hadn’t previously seen any shorts featuring the Keystone Kops (just their all-too-quick appearance in Abbott And Costello Meet The Keystone Kops), so this was a treat!  The lead-up to the beauty contest as we’re introduced to some of the characters was fun, but it was when the Count picked the “wrong” lady that everything REALLY got better, with the food fight at the hotel and the Kops making their madcap drive to get there.  A very enjoyable treat, and one I plan to watch more!

Coming Up Shorts! with… New Shoes (1936)

(available as an extra on the Libeled Lady Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 10 minutes, 23 seconds)

Two pairs of shoes decide to pinch the feet of their new owners, as the owners go out with each other.  An interesting but bizarre short, as the two shoes talk to each other.  It’s musical, but the songs themselves are quite forgettable.  Personally, I find the story itself to be too bizarre, and it’s not helped by the short itself being in rough shape (and therefore harder to understand everything that’s said/sung).  Probably won’t be revisiting this one any time soon.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Little Cheeser (1936)

(available as an extra on the Libeled Lady Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 9 minutes, 22 seconds)

Little Cheeser is tired of being “Mama’s little man,” and decides to listen to the devil on his shoulder and get into mischief. An interesting cartoon, although hardly original, with the fight between good and bad being waged by the shoulder angel and devil. Of course, these two do seem to be real, in terms of their interactions with the rest of the world. Still, the subject matter as a whole doesn’t work as well here (and, quite frankly, I much the prefer the 1938 Disney cartoon “Donald’s Better Self,” which covers similar territory but is far more memorable to me). The animation would be the only reason to give this one a shot (although, preferably, when it has been restored, since it wasn’t for this release).

And Now For The Main Feature…

Uh oh!  Fake news alert!  The New York Evening Star has published a story about rich heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) breaking up a marriage, but it turns out to be false!  The newspaper tries to stop the story, but enough copies get out that Connie and her father, J.B. Allenbury (Walter Connolly), find out and decide to sue the newspaper for five million dollars.  Unable to do much else, editor Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) turns to former reporter (and somebody who has also specialized in dealing with libel suits) Bill Chandler (William Powell) for help.  The plan?  Try to make the story true.  The two of them convince Warren’s frequently frustrated fiancée Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow) to marry Bill in a civil ceremony, and then have her catch her new “husband” in the act.  No sooner is the ceremony over than Bill is off to London, with plans to join the Allenburys for their boat trip back to America.  He tries to ingratiate himself by helping out Connie and learning all he can about being a fisherman (to find an in with her father, an avid fisherman).  J. B. is impressed, but Connie smells a (gold-digging) rat.  Still, Bill gets invited on a fishing trip with the Allenburys, where he plans to end the whole thing.  What he doesn’t count on is his own feelings!  He finds himself falling for Connie (and she for him), so he tries to postpone the “scene” with Gladys.  While he tries to see Connie in secret, he treats Gladys kindly (with her also falling for him in the process).  Meanwhile, Warren is in the hot seat, as he believes Bill hasn’t seen Connie during all this time (until he visits Connie himself to convince her to drop the suit, and Bill walks in).  Now, Warren has some ammo to get Gladys to turn on Bill again.  With all this trouble, will true love win out, or will everybody suffer?

Actress Jean Harlow had been trying to diversify the types of roles she had been doing, with varying results.  Libeled Lady was a return to some of her more comedic roots.  However, she was initially disappointed when she was cast as Gladys Benton.  Being that, offscreen, she was in love with her co-star William Powell, she had wanted to be Connie Allenbury, so that their characters would wind up together.  She didn’t get her way, though, as the film was generally intended as another vehicle for the screen team of William Powell and Myrna Loy (but Jean did at least get the wedding scene with William Powell, which was more than she got offscreen, since she died before they could ever get married).  In spite of the issue of casting, the four leads were all friends, and got along quite well throughout filming.  Of course, the movie proved to be a hit with audiences, and would even be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar that year (although it lost to another William Powell/Myrna Loy film, The Great Ziegfeld).

So, how do I like this movie?  It’s a screwball comedy.   Need I say more?  Wait a minute.  I do?  Ok.  How about my score for this movie?

My Rating: 10/10

Still not enough?  Then I’ll keep going.  The cast alone makes this fun!  As the managing editor, Spencer Tracy’s Warren Haggerty seems cut from the same cloth as Cary Grant’s Walter Burns from His Girl Friday, in terms of the lengths he will go to for his newspaper (which makes for a lot of hilarity right there).  Jean Harlow as his put upon girlfriend adds to the fun, particularly in the ways that she deals with William Powell’s Bill Chandler early on in the film.  Their fake marriage is really fun (especially when they’re not performing for anybody).  But, the big draw here is William Powell and Myrna Loy together!  Out of the fourteen movies they made together, this is only the second one that I have had the chance to see (although, as I write this, After The Thin Man is in my stack of movies to watch, and that review will likely be posted first).  These two certainly bring the comedy here, whether it’s her suspicions of him when they first meet, or the whole fishing trip.  But, everybody works well in this movie, and the laughs are sure to come!  So, don’t hesitate!  Give this one a chance!  You won’t regret it!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Libeled Lady (1936)

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection, working from a 4K scan of the best surviving preservation elements.  From the sounds of it, this is a movie that we BARELY got on Blu-ray.  The original camera negative was long gone, as the result of the infamous fire that destroyed many MGM camera negatives.  They had a second generation fine grain master (made back in the 1960s) to work with, but that was in really rough shape.  Still, they pulled off a miracle, giving us a transfer with a clean image (in a good way), that shows off the detail in fine form!  Seriously, this Blu-ray is wonderful, and should be the way you experience this well-made screwball comedy classic!

Film Length: 1 hour, 38 minutes

My Rating: 10/10 (repeated for the sake of keeping things uniform, as well as re-emphasizing my high opinion of the movie)

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Dinner At Eight (1933) – Jean Harlow

My Man Godfrey (1936) – William Powell – After The Thin Man (1936)

The Thin Man (1934) – Myrna Loy – After The Thin Man (1936)

San Francisco (1936) – Spencer Tracy – Without Love (1945)

It Happened One Night (1934) – Walter Connolly – Nothing Sacred (1937)

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