Today! Because Helen Bartlett is not Helen Bartlett alone. Helen Bartlett is womankind –
True Confession (1937)
Directed by Wesley Ruggles
Starring Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, John Barrymore, Edgar Kennedy, Porter Hall, Una Merkel, Lynne Overman, Hattie McDaniel, Byron Foulger, Irving Bacon
Just as a quick preface – herein is the first list appearance of the great Carole Lombard, maker of many a screwball romantic comedy of the 1930s and early ’40s, many of which are basically the same film over and over, the only difference being sometimes Carole was a socialite romantically involved below her, or she was a struggling working girl (no, not a prostitute, except in that one movie) romantically involved above her. I know this, as I watched every single one of her movies in 2018, mainly because they’re interchangeably nice and inoffensive and it was something to do. Some of these are still pretty good movies, but a handful manage to break away and really do something different.
Which brings us to True Confession, her second pairing with the fantastic John Barrymore and her fourth, final, and best film co-starring Fred MacMurray, this time as her lawyer husband trying to get her out of a murder rap. The grim set up is compounded by Carole’s character Helen being a chronic liar, mostly in the cause of doing good, but vastly complicated when on trial for her life. Naturally, hijinks ensue, including much complication brought about by Barrymore’s shady trial attendee and pub frequenter Charley, whose motives aren’t clear until well into the picture.
This was the only other time Lombard would co-star with Barrymore following her breakout film Twentieth Century three years prior. The story goes that Barrymore was falling on hard times in Hollywood – his hard living taking its toll physically and professionally – so Carole got him on this picture, in a perfect role for the old stage legend. And while they don’t have as much interaction in this film as in their first, the finale especially pays off the premise well when everything comes to light.
Quickly on the heels of Downey, Goldberg, Bosco, Broderick, and Torn come a pair of repeat list actors, as #384’s Sullivan’s Travels co-stars Porter Hall and Byron Foulger co-star again here today. Spotlighted!
Not overly praised in its day (it’s not even the best Lombard film of 1937), True Confession at least deserves the Best Courtroom Balloon award, for Charley’s ever-present noisy trinket.