Monday, February 18, 2019

Nothing Sacred (1937)



On the heels of A Star is Born (1937), William Wellman and David O. Selznick teamed up again to make Nothing Sacred (1937), a screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March. The story was based on James H. Street's "Letter to the Editor" published in International-Cosmopolitan in 1937 and adapted to the screen by Ben Hecht. According to the director's son William Wellman Jr., Wellman's contract restricted the overbearing Selznick only 6 visits to the set max. Selznick's enthusiasm for the project can be seen in the following telegram he sent to John Hay Whitney, chairman of the board of Selznick International Pictures:

"Nothing Sacred started shooting this morning. You wanted comedy boy you're going to get it, and bet it on your own head. After this one I am either the new Mack Sennett or I return to Dr. Eliot."

Ace reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) finds himself in a pickle. He's been recently demoted to obituaries after he wrote a piece about a Sultan turned out to be a fake. Hoping to make good by his editor-in-chief Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), he tackles his next big story which he's sure we'll get him back on track. Wally learns of a young woman dying of radium poisoning. He visits the fictional town of Warsaw, Vermont to find Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a young woman dying of radium poisoning. Turns out town physician Dr. Downer (Charles Winninger) had misdiagnosed her. She hides this fact from Wally who offers to fly her and her doctor out to New York City for one last hurrah. There she becomes the toast of the town, a pathetic subject for the community to fawn over. Her "final days" become a spectacle making it a big story for the newspaper. When things start begin to unravel it becomes clear that Wally has fallen in love with Hazel and must find a way out of their predicament.

Produced by Selznick International Presents, Nothing Sacred was distributed by United Artists and was a hit with both critics and audiences. Shot in Technicolor, it offers a visual splendor enhanced by the recently remastered Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. From the elegant costumes, elaborate sets and gorgeous aerial footage of 1930s era New York City, this film is a feast for the eyes.

Nothing Sacred is a comedy through and through. Subtle jokes are weaved in throughout along with zany situations that make this a classic screwball comedy. According to historian Frank Thompson, the set was "pandemonium  [because] Lombard had every bit the talent and enthusiasm for pranks and mischief as Wellman." It was remade as Living it Up (1954) starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and also became a Broadway production known as Hazel Flagg.

There are lots of great supporting roles including Margaret Hamilton who plays an uptight store clerk. Hattie MacDaniel has a bit part as the wife of a boot black (Troy Brown Jr.) who pretends to be an African Sultan. Frank Fay plays the Master of Ceremonies at a gala thrown in Hazel's honor.

Nothing Sacred is a must-see for fans of the screwball comedy genre. With that said, I wanted to like this film but I thought it was just okay. I appreciated the performances, the visuals and the clever jokes. I definitely want to rewatch it to pick up on subtleties I may have missed. In the end, it didn't captivate me the way I wanted it to. Unfortunately, I've never cared for Carole Lombard as an actress, no matter how much I admire her as a person nor how many Lombard films I've seen to get over this aversion. I'll keep trying but for now I'm not there yet.


**** Spoilers Start ****

I've always been weary about films depicting liars and frauds. It has to be done well for me to appreciate the story. Honestly I was surprised that Hazel gets away with her fraud. The story has Wally and Hazel sailing off into the sunset. I guess what she did is not technically a crime so it didn't have to be punished according to the Production Code. The dying Hazel becomes a larger-than-life persona that transcends Hazel herself. The community wants a martyr they can fawn over and celebrate. In the end it didn't matter if Hazel was for real or not.

****Spoilers End****








Nothing Sacred (1937) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is exceptionally vivid in color and crispness. I wish I could show you a still or video from the Blu-ray so you can see just how stunning this restoration is! The Blu-ray comes from a brand new HD Master created from a 2k scan of a restored fine grain master. The disc also includes audio commentary by William Wellman Jr as well as a variety of Kino Lorber trailers.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Nothing Sacred (1937) for review.

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