Libeled Lady

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Libeled Lady (1936)

Mar 20, 2000 (Updated Apr 16, 2002)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:cast, script, gags, direction

Cons:exaggerated situations and relationships

The Bottom Line: A well written and crisply directed screwball comedy with a great cast. A must for any fan of classic Hollywood comedies.


William Powell and Myrna Loy made fourteen films together, usually cast as a romantic couple. The Thin Man (1934) is the most famous of their films, most of which were comedies. But Libeled Lady is better than The Thin Man, and also better than two more famous films from 1936 also starring William Powell, The Great Ziegfeld and My Man Godfrey.

The plot of Libeled Lady is vaguely similar to many Hollywood comedies of the era. There's an engagement that goes awry on the wedding day, as in the Cary Grant films Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), and His Girl Friday (1940). There are the usual romantic betrayals and misunderstandings.

The surprise is how well it all works. The slapstick, one-liners, and unexpected plot twists fit together well. The cast is excellent, and the script and gags are often hilarious. The film actually gets better as it moves along. By the time Spencer Tracy fumes "She may be his wife, but she's engaged to me!" you'll be laughing. There's no doubt.

Perhaps the best line, though, is given to Jean Harlow. She is watching Powell receive fishing lessons on how to cast a line. The instructor goes through a silly, elaborate verbal setup to make the hotel room seem like a trout stream. Harlow blurts out, "Remember, there's a man on second!". Transparently non sequitur, the wisecrack catches both the pretentiousness of the instructor, and the futility of a man trying to become an expert fisherman in a single day.

The story has newspaper editor Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) engaged to Gladys (Harlow). It is their wedding day, but once again Haggerty calls it off. He will lose his job unless he can prevent a five million dollar lawsuit against the paper, filed by flamboyant heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy). The paper has falsely accused Connie of breaking up a marriage.

Haggerty schemes to trap Connie into actually ruining a marriage, so that the story will no longer be libelous. He hires an old rival, Chandler (Powell), to wed Gladys and then romance Connie. Of course, nothing goes as anyone has expected. Waylaid plans lead to screwball antics, and increasingly comic (and confusing) romantic relationships.

Never mind that in real life, no woman (much less one played by Harlow) would put up with the shenanigans that Haggerty puts her through. Never mind that suspicious heiress Allenbury would be furious with Chandler once she learned of his duplicity. But if the situations and relationships seem ridiculous, perhaps that is how it is supposed to be. Powell may never have been better, although his Best Actor Oscar nomination for the year was for My Man Godfrey instead.

In real life, Harlow was engaged to Powell at the time. Their marriage was prevented by her sudden death the following year, 1937, during the production of another Powell/Loy pairing, Double Wedding.

Libeled Lady proved to be the best film in the career of veteran director Jack Conway. Conway also had a success the year prior, with the melodramatic A Tale of Two Cities (1935). Unluckily, his future projects, which included reunions with each of the four leads in Libeled Lady, were not as memorable.

Libeled Lady only received one Academy Award nomination. However, it was for the most prestigious of the Oscars, Best Picture. It lost to Powell's The Great Ziegfeld. In 1946, the film was remade as Easy to Wed. (79/100)


Recommend this product? Yes


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