Libeled Lady has slowly become of my favorite movies in recent years, and cemented my affection for William Powell. They don’t make screwball comedies like this, and I’m almost afraid of mentioning it because it’s got a premise that I know Hollywood today could screw up. The story of couple-swapping, an heiress, and a muckraker all come together in this sweet, romantic, story that is evocative of the 1930s and its brand of humor.
Heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) is suing a newspaper for libel after the paper calls her a husband-stealer. The editor of said paper, Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) gets an idea to prove the headline true by enlisting the help of author Bill Chandler (Powell) to seduce Connie. In order to prove things true though Bill has to be married, so Warren decides to make a fake marriage between Bill and Warren’s own marriage hungry girlfriend Gladys (Jean Harlow). With the two married Bill starts to seduce Connie and falls in love with her, but sadly in being nice to Gladys, she falls in love with Bill too! With a love triangle blooming, Warren hopes that it will save him from losing five million dollars!
The various ins and outs of this movie are classical screwball comedy and sure it’s one that could be unraveled with a few lines, but the movie keeps things pretty tight. There’s various reasons why Connie doesn’t figure out the scheme earlier and even then you’ll be wrapped up in the banter, the comedy, and the romance to ignore plot points. The script is hilarious and the characters all ooze charm, mostly in the “I hate you but I love you” category. William Powell continues to be dashing and charming, with a side of snide sarcasm a la The Thin Man. His character is lusted after by two women, similar to his work in My Man Godfrey, but here there’s concrete reasons for why the women love him. He’s destined to be with Connie and the chemistry that worked so well in The Thin Man movies is evident here. But the true scene-stealer is Harlow as Gladys. Powell and Harlow had a tempestous relationship that was up and down and Powell was by Harlow’s side at her untimely death. The two are adoreable and at times you wish more than anything the two would get together. Gladys is pining after Warren who is an idiot, and clings to Bill because he’s nice to her (she seems to have ignored a comment he makes about her not knowing how to read). Tracy is a bit of a jerk as Haggerty. He doesn’t appreciate Gladys, then openly hands her to Bill to use as a fake wife. Even at the end Gladys doesn’t really win. She goes to Warren because of the plot conventions, and at times it seems like no one wants her, making her character even sadder.
This is a movie that really must be seen because I know I’m not doing it justice. If you’re a fan of screwball comedies, or just comedies that are actually funny, and a fantastic ensemble cast check out Libeled Lady. Thankfully TCM showed it recently allowing me to rediscover how much I love it!
ANNOUNCEMENTS: If you looked at the links section you might have seen the Film Preservation Blogathon that Ferdy on Film and This Island Rod are doing in May. If you’d like to participate in this blogathon sign up either at Ferdy on Film (http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/?p=13013) or at This Island Rod (http://thisislandrod.blogspot.com/2012/02/film-preservation-blogathon-2012.html). Also, I’ve gotten a fair amount of comments from some regular contributors. If you’d like me to add you to m Blog Roll let me know. Also, if any blog contributors have upcoming blogging events let me know!