Libeled Lady (1936)

Toronto Film Society presented Libeled Lady (1936) on Sunday, February 24, 1985 in a double bill with Three Comrades as part of the Season 37 Sunday Afternoon Film Buffs Series “B”, Programme 8.

Production Company: M-G-M.  Producer: Lawrence Weingarten.  Director: Jack Conway.  Script: Maurine Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers and George Oppenheimer, from a story by Wallace Sullivan.  Photography: Norbert Brodine.  Art Directors: Cedric Gibbons, William Hornung.  Wardrobe: Dolly Tree.  Editor: Frederick Smith.

Cast:  William Powell (Bill Chandler), Myrna Loy (Connie Allenbury), Jean Harlow (Gladys Benton), Spencer Tracy (Warren Haggerty), Walter Connolly (James B. Allenbury), Charley Grapewin (Hollis Bane), Cora Witherspoon (Mrs. Burns Norvell), E.E. Clive (Evans), Charles Trowbridge (Graham), Spencer Charters (Magistrate), Greta Meyer (Connie Maid), Richard Tucker (Barker), Hattie McDaniel (Maid), Lauri Beatty (Babs).

Libeled Lady was created in 1936 by M-G-M as a gift to its enormously successful young star, Jean Harlow.  Harlow had recently done well in some relatively serious films, but, the story goes she was yearning to return to the kind of comic role that she had done memorably in Dinner at Eight.  The studio was only too willing to oblige, since they had on hand a witty script that provided as well a meaty male lead for the current man in her life, William Powell, who would be second-billed after his lady-love.  The team’s gossip shenanigans assured a box-office bonanza.  But for an added bonus, the studio threw in Powell’s charming Thin Man co-star, Myrna Loy, in the title role of the indignant heiress who sues a newspaper for five million dollars because of a false report that she has run off with another woman’s husband.  For added measure, the studio fourth billed its fastest-rising actor, Spencer Tracy, as the unscrupulous Irish-American newspaper reporter who ingeniously attempts to make the story come true!

With fast-paced dialogue and action, and four high-spirited stars, the film is a classic of its time.  It comes the closest of any film of the period to echoing the mood and content of Capra’s It Happened One Night, brightly combining as it does, a world of newspaper hounds and willful heiresses.

While filming went on, real-life reporters at first flocked to the set to glimpse Harlow and Powell.  But before filming was over attention had shifted to Tracy who had suddenly been catapulted to unquestionable stardom on the release of Fury and San Francisco.  If Myrna Loy felt neglected on the set of her 91st film in 11 years (!!), her day would come.  For it is she who, alone of the four stars, is still alive almost fifty years later, and is currently being suitably honoured for her durable career.

Libeled Lady was one of the biggest money-makers of 1936, and was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture, (The Great Ziegfeld won).  In 1946, M-G-M remade it as Easy to Wed with Lucille Ball, Van Johnson, Esther Williams, and Keenan Wynn as the Harlow, Powell, Loy and Tracy roles respectively.

Notes by Cam Tolton

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