Tuesday, December 17, 2019
The 12 Days of Carole Lombard: Nothing Sacred (1937)
After a public fiasco, disgraced newspaper reporter Wally Cook is reassigned to the bottom rungs of the paper. In a bid to regain his lost status, he seeks out a story in the small country town of Warsaw, where he meets Hazel Flagg, a young woman dying of radium poisoning. Unbeknownst to him, however, she gets the tragic news that she's going to be ok. Glad to be alive, Hazel is mainly pissed off that she's going to be stuck in this dead-end town for the rest of her life, as opposed to the treats she'd be granted if everyone believed she was dying. With her doctor's help, and the unsuspecting Wally's power of the press, she continues the charade and becomes a nationwide sensation...
From it's garish technicolour, to the creative direction, and neat set design, Nothing Sacred looks great! So good in fact that I could've sworn it was from the 1950s, when cameras were a bit less restricted.
Where Nothing Sacred fell flat for me was the story. It's a great idea, and has the potential to be tons of fun, especially in the Screwball era, but to me it was a bit lacking. The story doesn't feel like it's explored to its fullest potential. We just see the public adoring Hazel at a few different places, she feels anxious, and Wally suddenly falls in love with her. What bothered me most was the ending, which felt like a cop-out. I guess it does reinforce the movie's themes (granted, the themes that were introduced only 1 minute prior), but it leaves the characters having learnt nothing.
As can be expected from a screenplay written by Ben Hecht (and about half a dozen others), Nothing Sacred tries making attempts at social commentary an hour in, but by that point it feels a bit too late. They're not bad points to make, but there was never really indication any of that was the case. It just feels like Wally's coming up with lame excuses to defend Hazel, and I don't think it was meant to be the point. Where it feels especially clumsy to me was the ending. Again, the points it's making are quite pointed and possibly true, but it feels like they it didn't gel enough with what we've seen. It maybe would've been better if they leaned into it more, rather than just having it be an afterthought in the last 30 seconds. [I really wish this script had seen more work.]
The characters range from being decent to somewhat unlikeable. They're never shocking or anything, but none really wowed me, for the most part. Hazel is a sweet enough lead, with understandable enough motives, even if what she's doing is wrong. Wally is noble enough, but also in desperate need of a good story, to the point where he'll jump on any sensational scoop without vetting it thoroughly first, causing him to be in hot water more than once. His boss Oliver Stone is your typical shouting newspaper editor, but with some integrity to him even if the moralising Wally doesn't think so (and of course he wouldn't, since he's the one who stuffed up, and wants to cover his own ass!), and you feel a bit bad for all the fraud charges Wally keeps getting him caught up in. Dr. Enoch Downer ranges from pretty good to annoying, And lastly, Ernest is a fleetingly appearing character, but one of the more fun members of the cast.
Nothing Sacred is a pretty funny movie. I didn't find it hilarious, but there were some good moments here and there. The brawl at the end between Lombard and March is especially amusing.
The acting here is very good, with Lombard being her usual engaging self, although there's only so much you can like the acting when you hate all the characters. I thought Walter Connolly really excelled in the last third though. He's hilarious! On the other end of the spectrum is Charles Winninger as Hazel's doctor, who's quite grating in some scenes. Troy Brown is another hit, enlivening any scene he appears in. He also gets to have fun dressing up as an African prince at one point too.
The visuals in this movie are often beautiful, and are staged perfectly. The lighting is also very effective too. Also of note are the clay caricatures in the opening credits! They seem a bit random, but they certainly make you interested for what's to come.
Overall, I didn't enjoy Nothing Sacred as much as I hoped I would, although it might hold more with other. I found it be be a bit of a missed opportunity, only helped by its actors...