Here is the story of a newspaper trying to get out of libel suits and creating a love…rectangle? Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) is an important newspaper man and has called his wedding off once again because of a printed emergency. His paper just ran a story about Connie Allenburry (Myrna Loy) that claims she’s a marriage breaker, now she’s filed a five million dollar claim against the paper. His fiancé, Gladys (Jean Harlow), is furious that he’s put the newspaper before her once again. Warren and his old writer friend, Bill Chandler (William Powell), form a plot where Bill will marry Gladys (just temporarily) so that he can be seduced by Connie and Gladys will catch them. Surely, Connie will drop her claim after really being caught? But it’s not that simple and unexpected sparks begin to fly.
This film is a case of good ol’ classic comedy. It’s never as outrageous or slap stick as Abbot and Costello or The Three Stooges. Libeled Lady is the sort of ‘30’s comedy for an intelligent audience. The most physical comedy we find is when Bill is fishing, and the dip is refreshing.
There’s also a good deal of romance, well, it’s a kind of screwball romance. Characters pretend to be together and talk ridiculous mush while others must pretend to have no relationship. When the real and unexpected relationships start to kindle, the audience may be conflicted. Some oppose, knowing the whole scheme will be lost and others cry ‘yes!’ because Myrna Loy and William Powell are such a dreamy couple.
And that’s where we learn some fun facts about early cinema. This is only the fifth of fourteen films where Myrna Loy and William Powell are paired up as a romantic couple. We’ll see this again in The Great Zeigfeld later in the week. At the time when this film was made, Jean Harlow and William Powell were a real couple and pushed for Harlow to play Connie, but MGM knew that audiences wanted Loy and Powell together (like an old-timey fantasy Bradgelina).
I think I’ve said before how I despise most screwball romantic comedies, but this I enjoyed. It’s not too romantic, doesn’t try to be too funny and just doesn’t get anywhere near all those things that makes me hate today’s romantic comedies. If you enjoy older film, classic comedy with a touch of romance then Libeled Lady is a perfect fit. If you enjoy today’s romantic comedies, I encourage you to branch out and sample their previous generations. It could be a refreshing break from Jennifer Aniston’s cleavage.
“She may be his wife, but she’s engaged to me!”