Libeled Lady Reviews
Not surprisingly, things don't go as planned. I loved the banter between Loy and Powell, as she dislikes him at the outset, and suspects he's scheming at something, she's just not sure what. The fishing trip she and her father take him on has some priceless slapstick comedy from Powell, and it's fun to see Loy out there fishing. Things get complicated as Harlow begins falling for Powell, and the movie finishes strong, with a nice twist in what is a great final scene. The movie was worthy of its nomination for Best Picture, but it was in a year when another Powell/Loy vehicle would win it ("The Great Ziegfeld"). It's a bit odd to me that it's considered a "screwball comedy"; I don't think that's the right designation at all, but it's fun, will make you smile, and is definitely worth watching.
"Libeled Lady" is neither the best nor the worst screwball comedy (there isn't necessarily a worst, but the best is a tie between "His Girl Friday" and "My Man Godfrey"), but it's a mega-delight. Seeing William Powell and Myrna Loy coupling up for the umpteenth time is always a pleasure, but in "Libeled Lady", they're teamed with Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy, and the results couldn't be any more fun.
The film opens with a shocking newspaper headline: socialite Connie Allenbury (Loy) is a husband stealer! One can hardly believe that Myrna Loy would do something so utterly distasteful, and we're right. It's a case of mistaken identity, but Connie is filthy rich and won't ignore a simple case of error. She decides the best thing to do is to sue the newspaper for $5 million on libel charges.
Editor-in-chief Warren Haggerty (Tracy) already has a bitter fiancé, Gladys (Harlow), tugging on his sleeve, waiting to get married, and the libel suit only makes for a tipping point. Desperate, he comes up with a diabolical yet genius idea. He hires Bill Chandler (Powell), a former employee in serious need of a job, to marry Gladys and court Connie. That way, Connie would actually be a husband stealer. But of course, as they get to know each other, Bill and Connie fall in love; and Gladys, who is so desperate to be a wife, begins to get jealous of Connie, naturally.
With a movie so glamorous, it's hard to believe that in 1936, most people lived in shacks, not mansions. "Libeled Lady" is so smoothly entertaining that we get lost in its madcap situations, and most likely, so did the audiences that lived in shacks. The film is pure escapism, and, nowadays, movies are so cynical that even a little bit of schmaltz is shot down.
"Libeled Lady" doesn't need to be sentimental to be light and entertaining - even the ending, which resolves everything with the simplicity of a Disney movie, is cleverly placed. The romances are as equally uncontrived: Warren and Gladys have that hateship loveship that old married couples carry around, and Connie and Bill's courtship is a series of witty lines and playful jabs at romance. When they dance together for the first time, Connie asks Bill what he thinks of her eyes; it's clear she expects him to compare them to the moon, the stars, anything syrupy. But he instead remarks that they look like angry marbles, and it's unexpected but perfect.
The cast has great chemistry, with Powell and Harlow as the biggest standouts. Powell is always a joy to watch as the slippery son-of-a-bitch that is too likable for his own good, and Harlow is a knockout as the loudmouthed, severely-spoiled, love hungry pawn. While it may have been labeled as a vehicle for the latter, "Libeled Lady" ends up being a glamorous and whip-smart ensemble comedy. It's an underrated screwball comedy for sure.