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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Veronica Lake is my #WCW in ‘I Married A Witch’

Well, October is here and you all know what that means? Yes, that’s right. Halloween! I’ve never been super into the whole dressing up thing. I was Hermione up until 7th grade and then I just stopped. My parents didn’t want to buy me a new costume. So, I got very into Halloween movies. I should be clear; I’m not a huge horror movie fan. But, I love the fun Halloween classics – BeetleJuice, Halloweentown, Hocus Pocus, Poltergeist…that kind of stuff.

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Debbie Reynolds taught me: WITCHES ARE COOL.

If you’ve been following my movie musings, then you know that I’m also a huge screwball comedy fan. So, to kick off October, I thought I’d discuss one of my recent discoveries: Rene Clair’s I Married A Witch. I found it a few months ago when I raided my dad’s DVD collection and found a Criterion copy of the film. The cover intrigued me so I gave it a shot and let me tell you, it is a TREAT!

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Beautiful Artwork, AMIRIGHT?

Here’s a quick synopsis: I Married A Witch, made in 1942, follows Jennifer (Veronica Lake), a witch and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway), burned at the stake in the 1600’s and buried underneath a tree. Jennifer places a curse on the man who turned them in: all the generations to follow shall have unhappy marriages. Jennifer and Daniel are revived in the early 1940’s, just wisps of smoke before they find bodies to hop into. They decide to wreak more havoc by torturing Wallace Wooley (Fredric March) and making him fall in love with Jennifer. As always drama and LOTS OF COMEDY ensues!

Here are just a few reasons you should add I Married A Witch to your Halloween movie-binge!

The Cast

After I finished watching the movie, I called my dad and told him how much I loved the chemistry between March and Lake. My dad laughed, telling me, “Yeah, too bad they hated each other.” And indeed, they did hate each other…a LOT. According to Jeff Stafford of TCM, “…prior to meeting his co-star, Fredric March had reportedly said Lake was ‘a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability,’ a comment that made its way back to her. In retaliation, Lake called March a ‘pompous poseur’ and their adversarial working relationship proceeded from there (Stafford, TCM Article).”The shoot was apparently very contentious and included Lake regularly pranking March and some very nasty shouting matches.

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In LOVE?

Lake was just coming off of her starring role in Sullivan’s Travels, another great screwball comedy. She has the very famous peek-a-boo haircut in this film and is charming beyond belief. Fredric March was a few years away from his most famous role in The Best Years of Our Lives. His befuddlement in this film is pure joy. He doesn’t know what’s going on half the time. Whatever their drama was IRL, it didn’t hurt the film. Their chemistry is palpable and IMHO, is what makes the film work.

In addition to its fabulous leads, the film also boasted great character actors such as Cecil Kellaway and Robert Benchley. Many of the supporting characters are Preston Sturges regulars and they add fun and whimsy to the film.

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Jennifer’s dad is seriously CRAY. #RealTalk

The Producer

Unofficially, Preston Sturges agreed to produce this film with Clair and you can definitely tell he had a hand in it. Like his greatest films, I Married A Witch is funny, farcical, and romantic. If you like this film, you should binge all the Sturges films – Christmas In July, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Sullivan’s Travels…the list goes on. He’s wonderful.

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Shown: Screenwriter and director Preston Sturges, circa 1947

The Director

French director Rene Clair had only just made his first American film, The Flame of New Orleans, and it apparently hadn’t gone very well box-office wise. His agent sent a copy of a book called The Passionate Witch by Norman Matson and Thorne Smith. It was really because of Veronica Lake’s involvement that the film actually got made.

Clair’s name isn’t one that is remembered often enough. He was one of France’s first great comedy directors and his cache really became films that somehow mixed fantasy elements with humor and romance. AKA everything I LOVE. Some of his other great films to check out: Beauties of the Night, A Nous a Liberte and The Grand Maneuver.

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Rene in the 1920’s…NEED THAT CAMERA

The Script

This is my favorite era precisely because screwball comedies were in vogue. Though I know no one talks that fast IRL, I don’t care! It’s fun, witty, and FAST FAST FAST. Funnily though, this film had many cooks (writers) in the mix. Five writers are credited on IMDB for having some hand in the script. Rene Clair and Andre Rigaud apparently just helped in punching up the dialogue, which is ON POINT.

Even with all the cooks, the film turned out to be HILARIOUS.

Some of my favorite lines in this film:

“Ever hear of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire? That was our crowd.”

“Pistol, pistol, let there be/Murder in the first degree.”

Wallace Wooley: “I’m afraid you’ve got a hangover.” Daniel: “Don’t tell me what I’ve got! I invented the hangover. It was in 1892… B.C.”

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She looks sincerely in love, right?? #GoodActing

The Incredible Effects

One of my major problems with film today is that they over-indulge in special effects. I have no issue with trying to make a film’s fantastical elements come to life. But, many times, today, things look so perfect they actually look less real. While some might say these 1940’s effects are a bit hokey, I can’t help but be wowed by them.

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Just some wisps of smoke taking a broom ride…

The Cinematography

Going along with the effects is the beautiful black and white cinematography! Ted Tetzlaff was the cinematographer and with films like Notorious, My Man Godfrey and The Talk of The Town on his resume, I can’t say I’m surprised at the atmosphere and beauty. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Talk of The Town.

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Romance + Black and White = PERFECTION

Veronica Lake’s Dresses

Famous costume designer Edith Head was behind Lake’s gorgeous ensembles in this film and I want them ALL…👗

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That 40’s Style!

It’s a whimsical, charming, fun, fantastical comedy delight.

This movie is everything you want it to be. It’s funny, romantic, and beautiful. But most importantly, it’s FUN. At just 77 mins long, I Married A Witch takes you on a fast, crazy, ridiculous ride and lets you enjoy its fantastical premise. Veronica Lake didn’t have a great reputation in Hollywood, but as an actress, her appeal cannot be denied! And of course, the film inspired the very popular 60’s sitcom, Bewitched.

Drinking game idea: Drink every time Jennifer pouts. You’ll end up drinking A LOT.

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I wanna be a witch too!

Trailer below. And if you have Hulu, you can watch the full film RIGHT NOW. And if that’s the case, seriously, what are you waiting for? An engraved invitation? Go watch it NOW.

Halloweentown Gif is property of Disney.

I Married A Witch Gifs Property of Paramount Pictures.

 

 

Oh Claudette, you old so and so…

The two holiday weeks are equal parts stressful and fun. There’s family and hordes of food, but there’s also time for movies.

My favorite part of the holiday season here in Los Angeles is the schedule at the American Cinematheque. For those outside of the Los Angeles bubble, the American Cinematheque is a screening organization which shows classic or “alternative” films. They show films at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and also at the Aero in Santa Monica.

During the holidays, they tend to show popular films, the ones that will sell out when people are off work and actually have the time to go to the movies. Die Hard and It’s a Wonderful Life are the christmas staples, but what I look forward to most is those first few screenings in the new year when they highlight 30s and 40s screwball comedies.

This year, on the second night of their screwball comedy tribute, they showed a double feature of Midnight (1939) and Remember the Night (1940). I had seen Midnight before, but it had been a while. I knew I liked it, but couldn’t remember the particulars. In this second viewing, I was blown away at how modern and hilarious it was. The audience was totally connected to the story and the characters.

For a little background, Midnight stars Claudette Colbert as Eve Peabody, a nightclub singer who arrives in Paris without a cent to her name. Straight off the train, she meets Tibor Chemny (Don Ameche), a taxi driver who falls in love with her at first sight.

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However, Eve, scared of her feelings for Tibor, runs away, right into a high class soiree happening nearby where she meets Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore…Yes, he’s Drew’s great-grandfather)….

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Georges sets his eyes on Eve when he sees that his wife’s (Mary Astor) lover, Jacques Piqot, played by Frances Lederer is interested in Eve. Georges tells Eve he’ll foot all her bills if she pretends to be a baroness and steals away Jacques from his wife. As if there is not enough problems, the taxi driver then comes back in and Eve does everything to protect her story, piling lie upon lie.

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Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett penned the script while Mitchell Leisen directed. It really was a dream team in a lot of respects, especially considering that Barrymore died only two short years later. However, the making of the film was slightly tumultuous as Leisen apparently liked to change dialogue. This enraged Wilder and led him to direct his own scripts from then on.

Midnight is light and tremendously fun. Ameche’s role is very much something Gable would have done. He’s gruffly lovable and we all watch hoping Eve and Tibor can make it work. But, Barrymore really steals the show, taking advantage of every moment he’s on screen.

It’s the perfect movie for those lazy winter days, especially when rain attacks Los Angeles and all you want to do is watch old movies and drink hot cocoa….or maybe that’s just me. Either way, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Vintage trailer below: