Tuesday, February 20, 2007

LIBELED LADY (MGM 1936) Warner Home Video

Libeled Lady (1936) is a sparkling romantic comedy of errors and bad manners. When commitment shy editor, Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) finds that his newspaper is being sued for alleging that socialite, Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) is a home-wrecker, he delays plans to marry his fiancée Gladys (Jean Harlow) by placing her in the midst of elegant playboy, Bill Chandler (William Powell).

The idea is to have Gladys and Bill marry so that Connie will then be fooled into having an affair with a married man - hence Warren's paper will be off the hook for printing the initial rumour. But the plot goes hopelessly awry when Gladys starts to have genuine feelings for Bill and Bill really falls in love with Connie. So what's a struggling foursome to do? 
Director, Jack Conway fleshes out this thimble of a plot with a series of hilarious vignettes and some really stellar acting from the cheap seats, including cameos by Charles Grapewin, Arthur Connelly and Cora Witherspoon - all instantly recognizable war horses from MGM's ever expanding stable of second string talent.

This film is one of many that proves great talent alone can not only rescue a meager storyline, but actually sell it convincingly as high art. In its heyday Hollywood in general and MGM in particular were the purveyors of such screwball nonsense. But even today the artificiality of the exercise holds together - magnificently so. We can still laugh at the jokes, corny as they might be, and, when all else fails, admire the sheer joy and meticulous craftsmanship behind the scenes that seems so effortless, yet compelling.

Everyone in the cast is a character - and that's part of the film's success too. We can enjoy the stars as stars and then settle into their performances as extensions of their star personalities. Not a single celebrity working in Hollywood today has as much charisma as William Powell in his little finger. Ditto for Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow; each one working overtime to be exactly on point. To have any one of these talents in a single film is a plus. To have all four thrown together into one movie is a star-studded zeitgeist - a singular sensation that sends electrical currents down our spines to tickle our funny bones. Libeled Lady may be light and fluffy, but it certainly packs a wallop.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is a travesty! There is virtually nothing redeeming about this B&W image, so excessively marred by age related artefacts that one wonders why the studio – usually committed to the classics, released it in such deplorable condition. The gray scale is weak and unstable. Dirt, scratches and other damage are everywhere! The audio is so strident and scratchy it is barely audible in spots, the score grating on the ear. An 'audio only' radio broadcast is the only extra included.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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