Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon: Carole's in the news ('Nothing Sacred,' and more)Posted by vp19 on 2013.09.21 at 15:28
Current mood: accomplished
Chances are that when you juxtapose the name "Carole Lombard" with the phrase "newspaper film," this is what comes to mind -- "Nothing Sacred," the classic 1937 Technicolor comedy about a journalistic scoop that turns out to be a hoax, and how all parties concerned try to cover up the matter.
There, Lombard was the subject of said hoax, but in this entry, part of the "Breaking News: Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon" sponsored by Comet Over Hollywood (http://cometoverhollywood.com/) and Lindsay's Movie Musings (http://angelnumber25.wordpress.com/).
...we'll also examine a little-known film where Carole portrayed a reporter. More on that later. (May I also say that as a longtime journalist -- having covered everything from sports and business to local news, working as a reporter, and editor and also on the copy desk -- I'm delighted to be part of this blogathon.)
New York Morning Star reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) is the victim of a fake story that leads to his demotion to the obituary section...
...when he gets word of a woman dying of radium poisoning in a small Vermont town. He goes up to investigate, though he gets little help from tactiurn townsfolk such as this spinster (played by the great character actress Margaret Hamilton, two years before she gained cinematic immortality for a very different type of film):
Cook finally meets Hazel Flagg (Lombard), who really isn't suffering from radium poisoning but is persuaded by her family doctor (Charles Winninger) to pretend that she is so that Hazel and the doctor can go on a New York trip sponsored by the Star. Hazel's story draws sympathy from New Yorkers and she becomes the toast of the town...but when she is discovered to be in ideal health, what do Hazel and Wally (who happen to be falling in love), not to mention the Star, do next? You'll have to watch the film -- which is in public domain, although a first-class Blu-ray version was issued last year -- to find out.
"Nothing Sacred" is perhaps most famous for its fight scene, where Wally tries to wear Hazel out to make her look ill before a panel of renowned doctors arrive to examine her. Lombard, a real-life boxing fan who in her youth received lessons from champion Benny Leonard, got some more training on set from another champ, Maxie Rosenbloom, who had a small part in the film as a comic thug.
Acerbic newspaperman-turned-screenwriter Ben Hecht (who wrote the screenplay for Lombard's pivotal film, "Twentieth Century") worked on the script; it's very good, and quite funny, but the semi-racist vitriol (the story that demoted Wally concerns a charitable potentate who's discovered to merely be a Harlem bootblack) slightly lessens its appeal to modern audiences.
Over the years, quite a few classic-era actresses played newspaperwomen, from Loretta Young ("Platinum Blonde") to Jean Arthur ("Mr. Deeds Goes To Town"; her role nearly went to Lombard) to Rosalind Russell ("His Girl Friday," another film Carole missed on). But before any of these were made, Lombard portrayed a reporter in the relatively obscure 1929 Pathe movie "Big News":
As the photos imply, Lombard -- playing the journalist wife of newspaperman Robert Armstrong -- has relatively little to do in the movie aside from being attractive. It's Armstrong's vehicle, and he's quite good at it as a reporter who falls prey to alcoholism and is accused of a murder he didn't commit.
"Big News" was directed by Gregory La Cava, who seven years later would direct one of Lombard's signature films, "My Man Godfrey." This is nowhere as good a movie, but by 1929's static standards, it's more than adequate, and is probably the best of her three Pathe features.
But wait -- there's also one more instance of Lombard playing a reporter, and on this occasion she genuinely treads into Torchy Blane territory. However, you can't see her in action (unless you have a fertile imagination) because in this case, she's on radio!
While Lombard is probably best known broadcast-wise for her several appearances on "Lux Radio Theater," she also made the rounds of several other programs, including a half-hour series called "Silver Theater." This episode, "Murder Unlimited," aired on March 9, 1941, as Carole plays a newspaperwoman who uncovers a ring of killers and finds a way to save the day. You can hear it at http://radioarcana.net/stations/xexs/19
The latest Lombard LiveJournal header is p1202-202, but is Carole trying to make us focus on her eyes, or her hands? Let's call it a draw.