The Painter and the Thief
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The whole plot is kinda ridic and filled with hijinks. Gladys should've left Warren a long time ago. However, the movie is filled with chuckles and light humor as are most of Tracy's films. The female costumes are simply stunning. The acting is well done. Its an easy going film to watch if you've nothing else to do.
Libeled Lady is structurally problematic, and simply too implausible and convoluted in its storyline, but still it is very entertaining throughout, and featuring many hilarious lines of dialogue. It mostly benefits from a terrific ensemble cast where Myrna Loy, William Powell, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow all played off each other phenomenally.
Comedies from the 1930s can be divisive as they often rely on sexual innuendo that seems tame by modern standards and feature slapstick that is worthy of groaning. This is one of the few that I have seen that stands up to modern scrutiny as some of the most likable and famous performers of the day team up to play characters that feel as though they were written to suit them. I loved William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (1934) and while this film never reaches the heights of that unimpeachable classic their reteaming was something to behold as the chemistry definitely carried over from one film to another. Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy are two actors whose work I have been less enthused about but here they surprised me and turned in predictable but effective performances that played into their public personas. I do not believe that the film was worthy of a Best Picture nomination but it certainly wasn't the worst film to crack the Best Picture lineup.
Newspaperman Warren Haggerty, Spencer Tracy, is so devoted to his job that he neglects his longtime fiancée Gladys Benton, Jean Harlow, to take care of crises at work in favor of marrying her. One crisis that he has to deal with occurs after the newspaper prints a story claiming that heiress and man-eater Connie Allenbury, Myrna Loy, had an affair with a married man without evidence. They are sued for $5 million for libel by Allenbury and her father James, Walter Connolly, who has had negative stories printed about him in the newspaper that derailed his burgeoning political career. Haggerty brings back former employee Bill Chandler, William Powell, to make Allenbury fall in love with him so that she cannot claim libel but in the process has Chandler married to an unhappy Benton.
The film does not attempt to push any real message about journalistic integrity on it's audience and for that I am thankful as many films from this time period that should be light comedies try to incorporate serious drama and fail. With a plot this unbelievable it would be difficult to take any moralizing to heart and the film delights in the wacky shenanigans produced by the somewhat improbable decisions that the characters make. Would a woman really marry another man just to make the man who will not marry her happy? Probably not but it propels the film's plot along and provides an opportunity to include a love triangle which adds tension to the film as well as a reason for Harlow to appear on screen. A better screenwriter could have made the film feel like more than a vehicle to have various actors play to type with hilarious results but this is not a film that requires a great screenwriter and while it is no The Lady Eve (1941) it produces enough laughs to entertain.
This is in large part due to Powell and Loy who are reliably excellent as the leading couple with their chemistry exploding off the screen as Loy takes on a role very different to Nora Charles. Here she is uptight and stuffy and opposes him at every turn with none of the alcoholism of Charles or the total support that characterized their relationship. They build up a repartee reminiscent of Ellie Andrews and Peter Warne in It Happened One Night (1934) but there is more edge to Loy who never fully succumbs to Powell's charms and remains very much her own woman throughout. It was odd to see a power imbalance in a romance of this sort in which the film skewed towards the woman as it is her who holds all of the money and the position as Powell is tasked with breaking her down. Tracy and Harlow prove to be considerably less interesting but they were better than I expected and Tracy does invest his role with an allure that was missing in his dreadful performance as Father Flanagan in Boys Town (1938).
Where the film loses the plot slightly is in it's pacing as it starts off quick and snappy, setting up the various characters and their relationships to one another nicely, but has a midsection that just sort of lumbers from one date between Loy and Powell to the next. This can be forgiven however as it is fun to watch these two stars shine.
Libeled Lady is a fun concept for a film, and the movie wastes no time jumping into the plot. A newspaper accidentally prints a false article that calls into question the moral character of a young woman. When she threatens to sue, some conniving people at the newspaper seek to make the details of the article come true. I loved William Powell’s scheme, and how much work he puts into his con job. It is made even more humorous by the fact that things constantly don’t go as planned in the first act. Myrna Loy is a nice foil for his plans because it seems she is a step or two ahead of him. I think the transition from this early stage of flirtation to the later romance was played brilliantly, and I was fully invested in the relationship. The fishing scene in particular was good for a lot of laughs, even if I question their classification of a walleye as a member of the bass family (we know our freshwater fish here in Michigan.) Where the plot of Libeled Lady didn’t work so well was the relationship drama between Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow. I totally understood the necessity for this B-story to exist because of the way it intersects with the A-story, I simply wasn’t as invested in their romance. The two seemed doomed from the first frame and the roving affections of Harlow’s character undermined their entire story. However, I did like the ticking clock it put on some of the events at the end, and how it built drama right up until the final scenes. I was a bit annoyed by the somewhat incomplete conclusion to the film. It didn’t feel like there was a proper resolution to everything, and even though I admit that I was chuckling at the end, it was a bit disappointing. Perhaps they tried one too many last-minute plot twists for their own good. That being said, Libeled Lady was still an enjoyable film, and one that I found quite charming. I would gladly watch it again any day.
It was a fun screwball comedy, I mostly saw it for the cast though.
Entertaining, lightweight, just right for the mid-30s Depression-era audiences. Powell and Loy are as delightful as ever and carry the movie with style. Everything else is merely icing on the cake.
The best comedy movie ever made!
Amazingly funny! Jean Harlow's performance is excellent. Spencer Tracy portrayal of a caddish journalist feels like it's written with him in mind. As always, William Powell and Myrna Loy are perfect together and have such an amazing chemistry. She's rich, he's not. It's like Nick and Nora Charles. Thankfully, it also has Walter Connelly who in my opinion is a King of Comedy. His soothing voice combined with his peppered attitude is always something I want to see. Watch him in Fifth Avenue Girl and you'll see what I mean. In fact if you like this then Fifth is one you must see. I have two favorite lines in this film. Listen for Harlow's line in the final scene when she says the word "back!" and then Tracy's line about "his wife". Really though, there are so many clever lines and they seem effortless. Though it's a screwball, many of the jokes are less obvious than otgers. Like the line of what Gladys doesn't do for Warren, by Warren. This is truly a great film and I enjoyed it so much that I just ordered the DVD for eternal love.
Loved this classic comedy from 1936 starring William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow. Just a joy to watch and Powell has become one of my favourite classic stars. Anyone that likes classic films should seek this out. Highly recommended!
This movie features Hollywood royalty in 1936: Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, William Powell, and Spencer Tracy - that's quite a cast. And it's an interesting premise: Loy is the daughter of a rich businessman who is suing Spencer Tracy's newspaper for libel. Tracy is about to get married to Harlow, but puts off the wedding in order to deal with that, and turns to Powell to 'make it go away'. Their plan is to have Powell get on a ship crossing the ocean that he knows Loy and her father will be on, seduce her into getting into a compromising position, and then have someone burst in on them so that they can threaten her with a suit of their own. To make that work, Powell first gets married to Harlow, so that Loy would be subject to an "alienation of affection" lawsuit (a law that has since been abolished in most but not all states). Harlow isn't happy, but goes along with that because of Tracy's predicament, and because she knows she can later get a divorce.
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.