Sunday, September 22, 2013

Libeled Lady ( 1936 ) - A Behind-the-Scenes Look

Every ace reporter wants a good story, one that is ripe with human interest and a fair amount of juice. But a really good reporter avoids the pulp. Sometimes, in the haste of chasing a scoop they squeeze a lemon and then they find the aftertaste to be quite bitter. Warren Haggerty ( Spencer Tracy ) did just that. As editor of the New York Evening Star, he printed a statement that heiress Connie Allenbury ( Myrna Loy ) was a marriage-breaker, cause enough for her to sue him for libel - $5,000,000 worth! 

Frantic, Haggerty schemes up a plan to prove his statement true. He nabs an out-of-work reporter ( William Powell ) to marry his own fiancee Gladys ( Jean Harlow ), and then orders him to compromise Ms. Allenbury. Enter an indignant Gladys who will then publicly sue Connie Allenbury for husband-stealing. Good plan, providing all runs well. 

All does NOT go well, however. Hence, the film takes a rollicking good turn into the realm of comedic mayhem. 



Libeled Lady is based on an original story by William Sullivan, a former newspaper reporter himself. Its premise revolves around a newspaper editor's worse nightmare - a libel suit. But, like most editors will attest, ingenuity comes to the rescue in moments of crisis, and Warren Haggerty will do anything to avoid that suit and save his job. 



The film is a briskly paced and highly amusing comedy which gives each of its stars plenty of room to sparkle and shine. It features some of MGM's top talent in their best form. Jean Harlow began her rise to stardom through screwball comedies and her return to the genre, after some more diverse roles in Riffraff ( 1935 ), Wife vs. Secretary ( 1936 ), and Suzy ( 1936 ), was welcomed with open arms by the public. Libeled Lady secured her standing as one of MGM's top female stars. She went on to make two more films before her untimely death at the age of 26.



Interestingly enough, Harlow originally balked at playing the part of Gladys. She wanted the role of Connie Allenbury in order to have scenes with her off-screen fiancee, William Powell. The MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer, shook his head at the suggestion ( he insisted the Powell/Loy teaming was what the public wanted ), and by the end of the film Harlow admitted that she enjoyed playing Gladys and the role was perfect for her. Even though she didn't get to spend many scenes together with Powell, they did spend time with each other in between scenes. As Frank Miller* writes, 

" She often visited the set when he was filming his scenes with Loy. One of those times, while she was waiting for Powell to finish a scene so they could go to dinner, director Jack Conway realized that he was one extra short for a big scene. Rather than let them postpone shooting - the casting office was already closed for the night - Harlow put on a black wig and joined the rest of the extras, a return to the work she had done when she first arrived in Hollywood ". 




Rosalind Russell was originally selected for the role of the heiress, but after the success of Powell and Loy's teaming in The Great Ziegfeld, it was decided that Myrna Loy would be more suitable. Libeled Lady marked the fifth of their fourteen films together. 

Another star that was replaced prior to the film's shooting was Lionel Barrymore for the part of Mr. Allenbury. Walter Connolly took over and played it with flair.



Location scenes for the famous fishing sequence were filmed in the high Sierras of California. The beautiful set design of the Allenbury's fishing cottage was another wonderful creation from MGM's supervising art director, Cedric Gibbons, who was busy that year working on Romeo and Juliet and The Great Ziegfeld for the studio as well. 

Libeled Lady was advertised as being MGM's first all-star film since Dinner at Eight ( 1933 ). It was directed by one of MGM's most dependable directors, Jack Conway, and was an immense hit at the box-office, earning $2.7 million in sales and even picked up an Oscar nod for Best Picture. 




Unlike most romantic comedies today, Libeled Lady had a perfect balance of star punch. It subtly refused to shine the spotlight on any one person and let it rest on all of them instead. It is truly a sophisticated slapstick par excellence. We have not seen the movie in over ten years and yet the one feature we do recall about the movie is it was funny...for that to remain memorable is a testament to how amusing the film must really be.

Some may say that a libel suit is no laughing matter...but Libeled Lady proves that statement wrong. It can be a laughing matter indeed! 

This post is our contribution to the Journalism in Classic Film blogathon covering newspaper men and women in classic films, hosted by Comet Over Hollywood and Lindsay's Movie Musings. Be sure to check out all the other great posts in this blogathon! 

* for TCMdb


12 comments:

  1. SUCH a fun movie! I could watch this one every week and not get sick of it.

    I can't imagine Jean Harlow in the Myra Loy role. Good thing the bosses said "no" - she was perfect as Gladys.

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    1. That's often the case with Hollywood stars...they imagine themselves in different roles and don't want to listen to the advice of the director, and then when they do they are so glad that they did. ( Talk about a confusing sentence! )Libeled Lady is a fun movie. The 1930s really was the golden year when it came to wild comedies.

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  2. This is such a sparkling comedy, with its four great lead actors. I especially love the whole fishing sequence! Enjoyed your piece a lot.

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    1. I remember the fishing scene the most too. I believe Howard Hawks wanted to copy the essence of this scene when he filmed Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss in "Mans Favorite Sport". But remakes never are as good as the originals...

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  3. I keep wanting to see this, but it's always out at the library. One of these days! You have made me REALLY want to see it now.

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    1. That's funny, we couldn't get a hold of a library copy either! I placed an order on the dvd at our library over three weeks ago too. Obviously 80 years have not diminished this film's entertainment value!

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  4. Just thinking about the fishing scene can start me laughing. Great stars at the top of their game. "Libeled Lady" is a winner all the way, just like your article.

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    1. Thanks Caftan Woman, we think the film is a gem too!

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  5. I didn't know Harlow wanted the Allenbury part - I would have been a completely different film with her in that role. This is one of my all-time favourite comedies. I could (and have) watch that final scene again and again; it's pretty much perfect. Thanks for sharing such a great review!

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    1. We have yet to see the ending to the film ( we're watching the movie in parts this week )...but we'll take your word on it that it's good! Libeled Lady really was the prize-winner in the screwball comedy genre. Glad you enjoyed our review. :-)

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  6. What a fantastic cast this film boasts. I've only seen the film once, and I don't much remember it. But your wonderful article has reminded me that I DVR'd it several months ago. I can watch it again as I get it out of the DVR and onto a disc.

    I like Jean Harlow best in these mid 30's years. Her hair wasn't so platinum, and she seemed a little softer all around. She was still saucy, strong, and sexy, but (for me) her look wasn't as harsh.

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    1. I couldn't agree with you more. Jean Harlow really was at the top of her game in the mid-1930s and it is so sad that her life ( and film career ) was cut short so suddenly. We can only imagine now what kinds of roles she may have gotten in the future.

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