Libeled Lady (1936): Jack Conway’s Oscar-Nominated Comedy Starring Tracy, Harlow, Myrna Loy

A charming, all-star cast elevates Jack Conway’s frothy comedy Libeled Lady, a typical example of MGM’s glossy Depression-era fare that was extremely popular with audiences.

Spencer Tracy plays newspaper editor Haggerty, who leaves his prospective bride Gladys (Jean Harlow) to determine why his paper printed a juicy scandal about the millionaires Connie (Myrna Loy). The owner of the paper, Mr. Bane has been slapped with a $5 million libel suit because of the story.

To that extent, Haggerty hires expert lawyer Bill Chandler (William Powell), and marries him quickly to the bewildered Gladys. Leaving for Europe, Chandler charms his way into the company of Connie and her father, Mr. Allenbury (the great character actor Walter Connolly). He finds a compromising situation that forces the withdrawal, but not before falling hard for Connie.

But now he has to use his wit and expertise to prove that his marriage to Gladys was not legal, and Connie decides to cal off the suit.

Based on a story by Wallace Sullivan, the script (credited to Maurice Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers, and George Oppenheimer) is light and frothy, and occasionally witty, even it takes liberties with accuracy of both legal and newspaper issues.

Proficiently directed by craftsman Jack Conway, “Libeled Lady” would have been a more zestful and entertaining flick under the helm of Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, Mitchell Leisen, or George Cukor. Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable star vehicle that features to an advantage its central quartet.

Myrna Loy and William Powell, a popular screen couple based on their film series, “The Thin Man.” Harlow, in one of her last screen performances, is also well cast as the brassy but ditched bride, and the sexy wardrobe designed for her by Dolly Tree is most fetching.

The movie was nominated for one Oscar, Best Picture, but didn’t win (see below).

In the same year, Powell was nominated for Best Actor for the sublime screwball comedy, “My Man Godfrey,” and Tracy received a nod for another blockbuster, “San Francisco.”

Harlow would make two more films, “Personal Property” and “Saratoga,” both in 1937, before dying of cerebral edema (a result of uremic poisoning, at the age of 26.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 1

Picture, produced by Lawrence Weingarten

Oscar Awards: None

“Libeled Lady” competed for the Best Picture with nine other films: “Anthony Adverse,” “Dodsworth,” “The Great Ziegfeld” (which won), “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “San Francisco,” “The Story of Louis Pasteur,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” and “Three Smart Girls.”

Credits

Produced by Lawrence Weingarten.
Directed by Jack Conway.
Screenplay: Maurice Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers, and George Oppenheimer, based on a story by Wallace Sullivan.
Camera: Norbert Brodine.
Editing: Frederick Y. Smith
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: William Axt.

Release date: October 9, 1936.

Running time: 98 Minutes