Carole Lombard and the Vitality of “Nothing Sacred”

This past week, I got a summer cold; one of those sneezing, wheezing head-achy colds where you basically can’t do anything except watch movies. Though I do not enjoy being sick, I do enjoy any excuse to binge watch movies. I don’t know about you but when I’m sick, I go for comfort food, both in terms of actual food (Hail Matzos Ball Soup!) and in terms of the movies I watch. Screwball comedies are the best medicine.

One such screwball comedy I revisited was 1937’s Nothing Sacred starring Frederic March and the luminous and truly hilarious Carole Lombard. If you’re unfamiliar, the film features Frederic March as Wally Cook, a reporter who’s just lost credibility on a story and thus, been designated to writing obituaries. In an attempt to win back his editor, Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), Cook travels to Warsaw, Virginia to track down Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a girl who’s dying of radium poisoning. Only one problem; just before they meet, Flagg is given a clean bill of health, but wanting a free trip out of Warsaw, keeps up the charade. As always, DRAMA ENSUES.

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500 emotions by Carole Lombard

Here are some reasons you should put Nothing Sacred on your summer watchlist!

The Cast

I’ve discussed Frederic March once before on this blog when I wrote about I Married a Witch!, another screwball favorite. Unlike that film, in which he and his co-star, Veronica Lake despised one another, the experience of filming Nothing Sacred was apparently filled with pranks and lots of laughter. March and Lombard got along very well, something that’s apparent in watching them together.

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Always so serious…

Lombard was in her late twenties and was at the top of her game. She had already made Twentieth Century and My Man Godfrey, two other wonderful screwball comedies you should all watch. Like when I was introduced to Judy Holliday, I couldn’t stop thinking of Lucille Ball when watching Lombard. She was so expressive and zany and just free. You can’t help but fall in love with her excitement, whether it’s justified or not.

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This is me when someone takes my picture.

As with many screwball comedies, the film had an impressive supporting cast of character actors which included Charles Winniger, Walter Connolly, and one strange, but very funny scene featuring Margaret Hamilton, aka the Wicked Witch of the West.

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Shaving cream everywhere!

The Script

Ben Hecht was hired by David O. Selznick to write a comedy vehicle for Lombard, but as was his style, Ben made it a bit darker than Selznick wanted and his version didn’t include a happy ending. Additionally, Hecht meant for the doctor part to go to his friend, John Barrymore, but by that time, Barrymore was a known alcoholic and Selznick wouldn’t allow it. Hecht ended up walking off the picture and the script was handed over to new writers who would punch up the dialogue and deliver a “happy ending.”

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Her “suicide note.” Love that she’s gonna face the end like an elephant.

Despite what went on behind the scenes, the script is a great balance of screwball antics and smart satire. It seems Hecht was covering the same ground as It Should Happen to You, the Judy Holliday film I discussed a while back. Both films comment on celebrity; how we define the criteria for celebrities and also, how we, as a society react to them. New York City obsesses over Hazel Flagg’s tragedy. It makes them feel better about themselves to be paying tribute to a dying girl.

At first, Hazel enjoys the attention and the benefits of her newfound celebrity, but soon, her conscience weighs on her, especially because she knows that when she comes out as a fake, her beloved reporter will be blamed. March yells at his editor at one point, accusing him of not really caring about Miss Flagg at all, only the headlines her death will bring. When March finds out that Hazel’s been lying about her ailment, he’s elated because he’s in love with her, but everyone else is actually angry that a girl who was supposed to die isn’t going to die after all. Kinda messed up, isn’t it?

The Romance

Okay, you all know I’m a sucker for anything romantic, even if it’s not technically the point of the movie. This film is no exception. Carole Lombard has great chemistry with Frederic March and now I’m going to show you a series of gifs which prove just that.

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How cute are they? 

Their Famous Fight

So, not to give everything away but towards the end of the film, Lombard and March have a physical fight…which is IMHO hilarious. I, of course, do not condone this kind of fighting, but it’s more Marx bros. slapstick than straight-up abuse. Lombard grew up with boys and knew how to box, so she was excited when she got the chance to throw punches. Apparently, the day after they shot the scene, Lombard had to take a day off to deal with her bruises. I mean, it looks to me like she actually got punched!

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According to an article in The Guardian, March did try to seduce Lombard off-set and Carole dealt with it much like one of her characters might. She called March to her dressing room and lifted her skirt to reveal that she was wearing a large dildo. Suffice it to say, March didn’t bother her again.

Because it’s a great showcase of Lombard’s talent and it’s just plain entertaining!

Carole Lombard died in a plane crash at the age of 33. Like Judy Holliday, Lombard’s talent was enormous and her life was also cut tragically short. But, because of film, we can still watch Lombard and experience her zany charm forever. This was apparently one of her favorites of her films and it’s one of my favorites as well, next to the genius that is My Man Godfrey of course.

Usually, I post a link to the trailer but this film is in the public domain, so if you have the time, simply press play on the link below.

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“13 Reasons Why,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” and the Agony of Loneliness

A few months back, I was with my dad at a small Los Angeles cafe. My dad suddenly had a wide grin on his face. He recognized someone. I looked over at an older man holding his laptop. My dad said to him, “Excuse me, but are you Chuck McCann?” He smiled and replied, “I used to be.” We had a lovely twenty-minute conversation with him and afterwards I asked my dad, “Who is Chuck McCann?”

As a result of this unexpected interaction, my dad showed me a small, independent sixties film called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. McCann has a small, but important role in the film. This was one of those times, just like with Caught, where I felt that click when you discover a forgotten film, when you’re genuinely moved and completely absorbed in the story that’s being told.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based on the novel of the same name by Carson McCullers follows John Singer (Alan Arkin), a deaf and mute silverware engraver. He lives a pretty quiet existence. His only real friend is a mentally challenged man named Spiros (Chuck McCann). When Spiros is put in a mental institution a few towns over, Singer uproots his life and moves into a family’s home where he befriends their sixteen year-old daughter, Mick (Sondra Locke). As usual, drama ensues…but this is slightly quieter drama.

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So polite and nice calligraphy, RIGHT?

Here are just a few reasons why you need to see The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

The Cast

Alan Arkin carries this film. At the time he made this, he was just starting out, having just made the film which made him: The Russians are Coming, the Russians are coming! He was an interesting choice for the part as we usually think of Arkin in a comic and verbal context…or maybe that’s just cause I know him best from Little Miss Sunshine. Either way, Arkin delivers possibly his greatest performance without uttering one word. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in the film, but lost to Cliff Robertson.

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His expression is EVERYTHING

Sondra Locke is also a revelation in this film. At 21 years old, Locke gave Mick a vulnerability and toughness that I daresay, most actresses today don’t have. She was the perfect counterpart to Arkin. They complimented each other. Though she didn’t go on to be a movie star, she’s continued to work in the film industry as an actor and producer. Locke was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but lost to Ruth Gordon.

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One of my favorite scenes in the film

Chuck McCann’s screen time may be a short, but he certainly makes his mark in the film. He was known for most of his career as a comic actor, but this film showcases his dramatic range. He is also famous for having a relationship with Stan Laurel. He apparently just found his number in the phone book and called him up. Fascinating…

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All Chuck McCann’s character wants to do this in this film is eat and I totally get it. 

Percy Rodrigues, Cicely Tyson, and Stacy Keach also give great supporting performances.

The Story

I had not read McCullers book when I saw the film, but feel compelled now to do so. Similarly to To Kill a Mockingbird, McCullers book discusses the South as well as racism and other social issues. To me, the film is ultimately about what it feels like to be lonely. It’s less about the plot and more how these significantly different people deal with their loneliness.

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No overacting. Arkin, man. He’s great.

In this way, the film reminds me of Netflix’s recent adaptation of the YA bestseller 13 Reasons Why. Everything Arkin’s Singer does is to bring people closer together. Even though ultimately, he’ll never feel that closeness with the people around him, he tries to help people where he can, even when he’s met with derision and anger. In 13 Reasons Why, the real message to take away is that our actions matter, both in positive and negative ways. We never know what anguish and pain the people around us are going through, but in our small way, we can do our part to make their lives a little brighter.

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“We have to do better.” – Clay

The Direction

In true indie style, you’ve probably never heard of the director of this film. I hadn’t. His name was Robert Ellis Miller and he actually passed away in January of this year. He directed the film very much like a play. He let moments play out organically. You never felt like you were being manipulated. It all felt genuine and real.

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So sweet

Carson McCullers

I think it’s amazing that Carson McCullers got this published at the age of 22. Her life was filled with pain. She attempted suicide, but was not successful. Carson had a tumultuous childhood and a rough adulthood, which was cut short when she died of a brain hemorrhage, just before filming began for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

As such, I think there’s a melancholy nature to all her works, but especially this novel. She took her pain and turned it into something meaningful, art that serves as a reminder that we all experience loneliness and that feeling that way is part of the human experience.

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She’s also famous for “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a poignant portrait of what it’s like to feel lonely.

It’s completely forgotten, but I don’t find its themes any less relevant than those expressed in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. We all get lonely to different degrees and we truly can all do our part to reach out and connect with the people around us. In this strange age we’re in, I think this film’s message is of the utmost importance.

 

Gifs and photos property of Warner Bros.