Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Libeled Lady (1936) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

One of my all-time favorite comedies, LIBELED LADY (1936), has just been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

I rarely miss a chance to recommend this delightful film, which I last saw at L.A.'s Silent Movie Theatre in 2015, and prior to that at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater in 2012.

I've loved the movie since I first saw it as a teenager at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles, and it was quite a treat to make the jump from my well-worn VHS tape to Blu-ray.

The movie can't be beat for star power, with the THIN MAN team of William Powell and Myrna Loy teamed with Spencer Tracy and Powell's offscreen love, Jean Harlow.

Tracy plays Warren Haggerty, a newspaper editor whose paper is facing a five million dollar libel suit from wealthy Connie Allenbury (Loy).  Warren hires former colleague Bill Chandler (Powell) for a very hefty fee to find a way to make the lawsuit go away.

It's a good thing Bill is being paid a handsome salary, as the plan he hatches involves him marrying Warren's much put-upon fiancee Gladys (Harlow) in name only.  Bill then plans to frame Connie as the "other woman" in his marriage so she'll dismiss the lawsuit.  Then he'll have the marriage to Gladys annulled so that she can finally -- maybe -- marry Warren.

Powell and Loy are as charming as ever as the high-class end of the quartet.  Loy is simultaneously snooty and charming, initially eyeing Powell with suspicion but quickly won over -- so much so, that when she ultimately learns the truth, it doesn't even matter!  I really love that just when you think there's going to be a huge crisis in their relationship, it completely evaporates.

Harlow is a hoot as Gladys, playing the character with just the right balance of shrewishness, pathos, and humor.  The "wedding scene" never fails to make me laugh, as she kisses the "best man" far longer than her new "husband," with Powell trying to explain it to the perplexed justice of the peace.  I've seen it so many times, yet Powell saying "A very old friend" never fails to make me laugh out loud.

In recent years I've come to realize that I generally don't care all that much for Tracy, with the exception of SAN FRANCISCO (1936); I find many (though not all) of his performances showy and even, if I may say so, obnoxious.  

Given that, Tracy works perfectly in this film as the unscrupulous editor who wants to keep Gladys only so close, happily abandoning her at the altar time and again, yet not wanting to completely rid himself of her.  If this weren't a comedy his character would be a complete cad, but the tone of the piece is such that we don't take him seriously, finding him more amusing than hateful.

The cast is rounded out by Walter Connolly, pitch perfect as Connie's father.  Minor players include Charley Grapewin, Cora Witherspoon, George Chandler, Lauri Beatty, Otto Yamaoka, and E.E. Clive.

This 98-minute movie was briskly directed by Jack Conway.  The story and screenplay had a quartet of contributors but somehow it all came together in a cohesive script which is funny and, as noted above, occasionally unexpected.  I particularly admire the mix of quick, witty dialogue with slapstick; anyone who's seen it will come away remembering Powell's hilarious fishing scene.

The lovely Warner Archive Blu-ray shows off Norbert Brodine's black and white cinematography and the gorgeous gowns by Dolly Tree.  While Harlow's somewhat "lower class" wardrobe is purposely a bit overdone and fussy, Loy's gowns are pure elegance, some of the loveliest she wore onscreen.

The Blu-ray has a nice selection of extras including the trailer, a radio promo,  shorts and a cartoon.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I can't help it. I always think of Jean Harlow as "Glady" and it sounds like Tracy's voice in my head. The whole movie works beautifully and I can watch from the perspective of a different character each time.

2:49 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Agreed on all counts; a lovely film and Tracy brings up the rear.

9:18 PM  

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