Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, and William Powell in Libeled Lady (1936)


(director: Jack Conway; screenwriters: George Oppenheimer/Howard Emmet Rogers/Maurine Watkins/story by Wallace Sullivan; cinematographer: Norbert F. Brodin; editor: Frederick Y. Smith; music: Dr. William Axt; cast: Jean Harlow (Gladys Benton), William Powell (Bill Chandler), Myrna Loy (Connie Allenbury), Spencer Tracy (Warren Haggerty), Walter Connolly (James B. Allenbury), Charles Grapewin (Mr. Horace Bane), Cora Witherspoon (Mrs. Burns-Norvell), Bunny Beatty (Babs Burns-Norvell), Otto Yamaoka (Ching), E.E. Clive (Evans, the Fishing Instructor); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lawrence Weingarten; MGM; 1936)

“All-star cast of MGM regulars William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Check out this all-star cast of MGM regulars William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow, and see if they don’t dazzle in this outrageous screwball comedy so attuned to the 1930s need for lighthearted escapist entertainment and to the studio system that provided such overvalued thrills! In my opinion, it is easily the best film Jack Conway (“A Tale of Two Cities”/”Viva Villa!”) ever directed, though certainly not the best of that eras many screwball comedies (my fave being Twentieth Century in 1934). The clever screenplay is by George Oppenheimer, Howard Emmet Rogers, and Maurine Watkins. It was less successfully remade as Easy to Wed.

Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) is the unscrupulous workaholic managing editor of the New York Evening Star, which specializes in breaking big stories and getting the dirt on celebs. On the day Warren is finally to tie the knot with his divorcée girlfriend of two years, Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow), his newspaper is the only one in town that breaks the story that unmarried wealthy society Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) is a husband stealer. The scoop proves false, and the story goes out in the first editions before it’s killed. Connie’s tycoon father, James B. Allenbury (Walter Connolly), a sworn enemy of the rag, is not soothed by the editor’s apology and initiates a libel suit for $5 million in damages. The heartless publisher, Mr. Bane (Charles Grapewin), orders his editor to cancel the wedding (which has been canceled a few times before with the lady left waiting at the altar due to newspaper business) and get busy on stopping the lawsuit.

Warren rehires the wily reporter, to an enormous raise, he canned a few years ago, Bill Chandler (William Powell), to frame the heiress in a compromising position in order to get the libel suit dropped. The scheme has Bill marrying Gladys in name only, with a divorce prearranged in Reno for a month later, while he accompanies the heiress and her father as they take a cruise ship back to New York from London. Bill does all he can to make the Allenbury’s acquaintance and try to get Connie alone so his cronies can get a photo of her together with a married man. The plan goes awry when Bill becomes smitten with Connie and she believes him to be a sincere suitor and surprisingly her cold heart melts. So instead of carrying out the devious plan, he tries to get her to drop the libel suit as a matter of good conscience.

It moves at a rapid pace, the superb cast have a good sense of timing for comedy, and the dialogue is snappy. A sample goes like this… Tracy: “You mustn’t fight.” Powell: “Why not, we’re married.” It’s harmless fun and not worth thinking about it too much. I would recommend just sitting back and going with the lively romp and lavishly costumed production.

It might be of interest to note that at the time of filming Harlow was engaged to Powell, but she died in the following year before they could marry.