Libeled Lady (Jack Conway, 1936): USA

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed on Turner Classic Movies.

  When the New York Evening Star prints an article that wealthy Connie Allenbury (Myna Loy) is a home-wrecker, she emerges as the Libeled Lady and sues the paper for five million dollars.  Since the staggering amount is enough to shut the paper down for good, frantic chief editor Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) rehires suave Bill Chandler (William Powell) to set up and defame the famous heiress.

Enter Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow) the feisty fiancee of Haggerty, both have been engaged for an interminable amount of time.  Haggerty is a workaholic and nuptials are only a distraction from his work.  Gladys becomes the third party in this false love triangle, she agrees to marry Bill in order to entrap Connie, and is promised a final wedding date by Warren if the plot succeeds.

After securing a fishing trip with Connie and her dad J. B. (portrayed by the ever-reliable Walter Connolly), Bill must learn accurate fly-fishing techniques in one lesson in order to impress.  The stream fishing scene in particular is one of the best scenes of William Powell’s career, it is absolutely hilarious with a series of mishaps and pratfalls. 

Since William Powell and Jean Harlow were true sweethearts, it is fascinating to watch the two at odds and engaging in great physical comedy.  Both experts in their field, it’s a delight to observe the smooth Powell drenched like a wet rat, and the gorgeous Harlow covered in mud mask with her hair in rollers. 

Harlow died prematurely in 1937, but made a string of excellent films such as Red-Headed Woman (1932), Hold Your Man (1933), Reckless (1935), and Riffraff (1936), three of which were written by the highly prolific Anita Loos.

Spencer Tracy and Myna Loy balance out the wonderful cast, and the film was a hit receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Picture in 1937.  MGM remade their own classic in 1946 as Easy To Wed with Van Johnson and Esther Williams in the lead, but it doesn’t quite measure up to this version.

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