Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Libeled Lady

My screwball comedy mania continues...

You couldn't call Libeled Lady a masterpiece but it has so many fine moments that it's well worth watching. TCM ran it this afternoon. I've seen it twice in a year and the second time was even better.

With a cast that includes Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, William Powell and a very young Spencer Tracy, Lady is one of those knockabout farces that keeps you watching by the sheer force of its audacious plotting.

Loy is a chilly heiress who feels that she's been libeled by Tracy's newspaper. If she wins the suit, Tracy and his paper fold. Harlow is Tracy's long suffering fiance. Tracy plans to force Loy to call off her suit by catching her in a scandalous moment of her own. He hires Powell to befriend her, trick her into a compromising position and then she'll be forced to call her off her legal action.

Here's the kicker. Tracy's plan requires bachelor Powell to have a wife. It's this wife who'll break in on Powell and Loy when they're embracing. Harlow will wail and carry on and threaten to go to the newspaper. Loy will back off. But who'll marry Powell in a sham marriage? Why, Harlow of course--and at fiance Tracy's urging.

My favorite exchange comes late in the first act when Powell, having recently met Loy, asks her to dance. He says several things to her that he assumes will impress her. But they don't.

He: "I thought I was being rather clever."
She: "I thought you thought you were being rather clever."

Harlow's especially interesting here. I never quite got her as a sex goddess. For me she tried too hard. But in comedies she's naturally sexy and a part of it is her simple put-upon sweetness. Really a nice job here.

You can get this on DVD for sixteen bucks if you're so inclined.


pattinase (abbott) said...

It was only a year or two ago when I realized William Powell wasn't really a handsome man. He fooled me for all those years. I've always enjoyed this movie. They knew how to have fun.

John McFetridge said...

William Powell may not be handsome, but Myrna Loy is the complete package.

It's too bad the fifties came along and ended the era of great women characters (too bad, but not by accident...)