Directed by William Wellman
Written by Ben Hecht from a story by James Street
Starring Carole Lombard, Fredric March, Walter Connolly, Charles Winninger
The screwball comedy was a glorious subgenre of the 1930s, a series of romantic comedies based up an off-beat situation that get their laughs by wild plotting and characters. One of the more overlooked films in the genre is Nothing Sacred.
Wally Cook (Fredric March) is a reporter for The Morning Star in New York, on the outs with his editor, Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly) after his big scoop turned out to be a hoax he fell for. In order to repair the paper’s reputation, he spots an article about Hazel Stone (Carole Lombard), who is dying of radium poisoning and goes up to her home in Warsaw, Vermont, to cash in on the sob story. But just as he arrives, Hazel learns from her doctor Enoch Downer (Charles Winninger) that the tests were wrong, and she’s perfectly healthy. As she leaves, Wally spots her an offers her a trip to New York. Hazel, who always wanted to visit the city, goes along. She is wined and dined and celebrated for her bravery as Wally begins to fall in love with her.
The movie – written by former newspaperman Ben Hecht, who I’ve discussed before – is designed to be a cynical look at the newspaper game. Hazel becomes caught up in all the honors, until she is riding a tiger she can’t easily get off.
Lombard is, as always, wonderful, and March puts in another fine performance. He’s not usually noted for his comedy chops, but manages to pull it off.
Modern audiences can spot Margaret Hamilton from The Wizard of Oz as one of the residents of Warsaw.
The movie did poorly at the box office. I think a main flaw is that it takes too long for the hoax to be revealed to the world. There was a lot of comedy to be milked out of the situation of trying to deal with the issue, but it’s pretty much missed and ends with a results that’s a bit too glib.* Still, it’s worth seeing for Lombard’s performance
*To modern eyes, there are also a few things that don’t sit well.