The Set of 400: #190 – My Favorite Dying Charlatan

Today! Because we switched a whole study course from the menace of Communism to the inspiration of Hazel Flagg –

Nothing Sacred (1937)

Directed by William Wellman

Starring Carole Lombard (x3), Fredric March (x2), Walter Connolly, Charles Winninger, Sig Ruman (x2), Frank Fay, Margaret Hamilton, Maxie Rosenbloom, Charles Lane, Sidney Kibrick, Hattie McDaniel (x2), Hedda Hopper, Jinx Falkenburg, Billy Barty

The movie that kicked off my 2018 marathon of every existing Carole Lombard feature (all 42 of them), Nothing Sacred inspired this endeavor by functioning as the purest example of Lombard-led screwballery. The other (spoiler alert) four Lombard films on this list all feature an equally effective leading man performance, be it Fred MacMurray or Jack Benny or William Powell, but Fredric March is just big name window dressing in this all-out Lombard vehicle. She plays small-town Hazel Flagg, incorrectly diagnosed with a rapidly terminal illness, who is quickly whisked away to New York City by an unaware, enterprising reporter hot for a human interest story. Hazel can’t help but get caught up in the attention and glamour, and obvious issues arise when more and more people find out about this deception.

It’s a real rock ’em sock ’em affair

There are plenty of predictable twists in this tale of romance and undeserved stardom, but making the whole thing work is Lombard – not simply caught in her typical poor girl-rich man or heiress-working class charmer comedy. Here, she gets to play both the starstruck romantic and guilt-ridden liar in equal parts, effectively dominating the picture and carrying it through some of the more route plotting. March is fine, and Walter Connolly does typically wonderful, exasperated work as the duped publisher Oliver Stone (no conspiracy here!).

I can tell you from first hand viewing, this was the best period of Carole’s career – ’36 and ’37 producing six films all of better than average quality, and all three of her current list films – #211 My Man Godfrey, #382 True Confession, and this. Love Before Breakfast and The Princess Comes Across are also Carole-centric comedies, maybe not quite at the level of the others, but still a step up from most prior efforts, while Swing High, Swing Low is a solid, more dramatic affair. For a few years after this, she seemed focused on winning an Oscar, and made good but not remarkable dramas like Vigil in the Night and They Knew What They Wanted. Say what you want about the Gable-Lombard marriage (beginning in March of ’39), but it wasn’t producing the same high level comedies as before they were together! At least not until the very end.

It may look like a comedy, but They Knew What They Wanted was seriously swarthy Charles Laughton business

While comedies fared slightly better at the Oscars in the ’30s than they do today – It Happened One Night and You Can’t Take It With You both won Best Picture in the period around this movie – they still were largely overlooked at awards time, and Nothing Sacred was no exception. And while it doesn’t quite have the lasting fame of Godfrey or To Be or Not to Be, it was the inspiration for a Broadway musical (Hazel Flagg in 1953) and a Martin & Lewis comedy, Living It Up. So that’s something!

Carole’s True Confession co-star and future Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel makes it to the Two-Timers today, along with #345 White Christmas vet Sig Ruman and #200 Les Miserables’ Fredric March, but Lombard is the only new Three-Timer, and snags that spotlight!

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is kinda fun, but not nearly as fun as this still makes it out

Coming tomorrow! I guess Pearl Harbor sucked, just a little bit more than I miss you –

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