(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of this Friday. Will she make it? Keep following the site to find out!)
In the 1936 comedy Libeled Lady, tabloid newspaper editor Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) has a problem. His newspaper has just published a story accusing wealthy heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) of being the other woman in a scandalous divorce. The problem is that Connie was not the “other woman” and she is now suing the newspaper for $5,000,000.
“5 million dollars!” an astonished Warren declares, “nobody has that type of money!”
(It was 1936, after all.)
However, Warren has a plan and, since this is a screwball comedy, it’s an unneccesarily complicated plan. He hires a former reporter, the suave Bill Chandler (William Powell, the suavest man alive in the 30s) to meet with Connie. Warren believes that there’s no way that Connie won’t fall in love with Bill. (Perhaps Warren had recently seen The Thin Man…) Once Connie does fall in love, Warren will arrange for Bill’s wife to catch the two of them together. In order to avoid the scandal, Connie will drop the suit.
The problem is that Bill isn’t married. However, Warren has a solution for that as well. Warren arranges for Bill to marry Warren’s fiancée, Gladys (Jean Harlow). Gladys is not happy about the arrangement but goes along with it because, despite his behavior, she truly loves Warren and Warren promises her that the marriage will only last for 6 weeks.
(When the minister says that he hopes he’ll be invited to the new couple’s silver anniversary, Gladys replies, “It better be in six weeks.”)
And, at first, things go as planned. Bill meets Connie on a luxury cruise and she quickly falls in love with him. However, Bill finds himself falling in love with her too. Soon, he no longer wants to frame her. However, that’s not the only complication. Finally fed up with Warren’s behavior, Gladys has started to think that maybe it would be better to be married to Bill. Soon, she decides that she has no intention of getting a divorce…
Libeled Lady is a minor but enjoyable screwball comedy. The plot is thoroughly implausible but, fortunately, William Powell was one of those actors who could get you to believe almost anything. As anyone who has seen any of the Thin Man films can tell you, Powell and Myrna Loy had great chemistry together. Spencer Tracy seems a little uncomfortable with the role of Warren but Jean Harlow is a lot of fun as Gladys. She doesn’t have a big role but, at the same time, you can still understand why she was such a huge star and why her tragic death a year later was such a shock.
(At the time the movie was made, Harlow was dating William Powell. She wanted to play Connie but MGM was determined to repeat the formula of previous William Powell/Myrna Loy comedies and Harlow settled for the secondary role of Gladys.)
As enjoyable as the film is, it still does seem a bit strange that it was nominated for best picture. It lost the Oscar to The Great Ziegfeld, another MGM film that starred William Powell and Myrna Loy.