Nothing Sacred (1937)

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A brilliant comedic performance from Carole Lombard, and a perfectly poised one from Fredric March, anchor an occasionally hilarious Ben Hecht screenplay, which, underneath the hijinks, assails the entire character of post-Depression America as gloriously corrupt. Being wise to the flim-flam is the chief tool of flim-flammers in Screwball Comedy, and everyone’s in on it at some point. Lombard’s the girl from Hicksville, Vermont, who’s told by her drunken, resentful doctor (Charles Winninger) she’s dying of radium poisoning. This inspires slick journalist Fredric March, in disgrace after one of his human interest discoveries proves to be a fraud, to make her the tragic heroine of the hour, only to find that she’s not dying at all. It’s sort of like the precursor to Ace In The Hole with more jokes and sex appeal.
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If, as in many of Hecht’s scripts, the entertainment is leavened by a slightly too heavy hand of moralising, the surface wit and relentless cynicism is both a laying waste to and a monument for the gauche energy of its era (and also the fear that the great American game would break down under the relentless scrutiny of European tight-asses, represented here by a gaggle of doctors led by Sig Ruman, who blow the cover on the whole deal), and engages with the cult of media dishonesty and celebrity obsession, defining it all as narcissism dressed up as public interest, long before our contemporary pantheon of media whores were ever heard from.

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William Wellman’s slick direction and W. Howard Greene’s Technicolor photography paint New York as a gilded wonderland, even whilst insinuating it’s rotten to the core, and staging witty visual gags, like the grotesque gala evening celebrating heroines of history that’s a monument to sleaze.
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Particularly cheeky, and a perfect example of the way sex was encoded in these films, is the scene in which, to fool doctors into thinking Lombard is suffering pneumonia, he sets out to get her breathless, shaking, and covered in sweat in five minutes – they settle for beating each-other up until each lays the other out with a satisfying, er, knockout punch.
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