So, in doing my usual bit of research into these films, I found out that Libeled Lady is a screwball comedy. Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a tried-and-true screwball comedy for the first time, but for those who’ve followed this blog since the early days, you’ll know I’ve never taken to the particular brand of humor that often gets called screwball. Then again, though, it has been a long time, and from what I’d seen, people have generally taken quite well to this one, so I was willing to give Libeled Lady a fair shot. To its credit, the film knows squarely what kind of film it wants to be, and knows exactly how to get it done to be the kind of film it wants to be. Still, it’s the smarmy, all-too-self-aware kind of humor that’s peppered through films like this that usually get me to disconnect from the film almost entirely, which if it wasn’t for the charms of the four leading players in this one, I might’ve ended up doing exactly that.
When the newspaper Spencer Tracy is managing editor of prints a false story accusing a wealthy American socialite (Myrna Loy) of causing an affair, Loy sues the paper for 5 million dollars in a libel case. In response, Tracy brings in William Powell’s character, a former employee of the paper, who hatches one of the most convoluted schemes to get out of a lawsuit I think the cinema has ever come up with; Powell will himself seduce Loy’s character, after getting married to another woman (Tracy offers his own oft-neglected dame played by Jean Harlow for this part), and they will all converge on Powell and Loy’s honeymoon suite to essentially make the story the paper is being sued for libel over a true one, thus getting Loy to drop the lawsuit in exchange for the paper not printing the new, actual story. Well, as things are wont to go in plans such as this, wrenches are thrown in, mainly when people involved fall in love when they didn’t really mean to, blah blah blah, twist and turn here and there, and we’ve got our happy ending… or do we? I have to admit, I was prepared to write off Libeled Lady’s plot as being rudimentary and copycat of so many other screwballs of the era, but then the ending happened, which genuinely surprised me; without spoiling anything, we do get our happy ending, but not in the way you would expect from a film like this. The plot aside, I was quickly reminded of why I don’t generally care for screwball comedies, with the turn-a-phrase handling of characters by other characters in rather demeaning fashions, as well as a scene of William Powell flopping around in a river trying to catch a fish that went on a little too long, but I can forgive the film its faults if for only one reason: it’s charming, mostly thanks to Powell and Loy, with a little bit of Tracy and Harlow thrown in to spice up the mix at the right moments.
This is going to be a hard one for me to find a proper spot for in the rankings, for one main reason: it’s enjoyable, but it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable for me personally than if I’d been a genuine fan of screwball comedies. I can see why plenty will find this one quite enjoyable, and I really can’t fault them for such an opinion; it just wasn’t one I shared wholly and completely, or for the same reasons those people might have for why they enjoyed it as much as they did. I enjoyed it for the stars and their interplay with each other, not for the characters and their own interplay, which is kinda confusing to think about, I admit. Still, as objective as I can be, this wasn’t bad; I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it one of the best pictures of the year, but it has enough for most audiences to get through it all right, which is more of a compliment than I can say about a lot of other nominees I’ve seen.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10