Nothing Sacred (1937)

“You’ll be a sensation. The whole town’ll take you to its heart.”

Synopsis:
A journalist (Fredric March) exploits the story of a small-town woman (Carole Lombard) supposedly dying of radium poisoning, who hides her healthy status in order to enjoy her new-found fame in New York.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately labels this “classic screwball comedy” — scripted by Ben Hecht — as “an attack on the hypocrisy of all Americans” who “revel in their unselfishness and graciousness toward their fellow human beings, yet … delight in other people’s misery … and exploit it”. While Flagg is indeed an outright imposter, taking advantage of a free ride when it’s handed to her, she feels appropriately guilty the entire time — and in reality, she’s just “a 10-cent charlatan compared to the bloodsuckers who profit … from her plight”; thus, she remains an oddly sympathetic protagonist throughout. It helps, of course, that Flagg is played by the premiere screwball comedienne of the 1930s — beautiful Lombard (the “highest-paid star at the time”), who gives a “witty, animated performance”. March is “his usual too stiff self” (as Peary points out, this it “why it’s funny watching a smalltown boy greet him with a bite on the leg” during an unexpectedly laugh-out-loud moment) — but he’s a suitable foil for Lombard, whose energy never flags.

At just 75 minutes, this public-domain title (which exists in multiple so-so transfers — none doing justice to its Technicolor hues) zips along speedily and never loses steam. The rapidity with which Flagg is embraced by the American public as its latest favorite “folk hero” resonates perfectly with the apparent speed of modern-day celeb-culture, in which “breaking news” is available at the touch of a button. Hecht’s merciless script is full of countless juicy moments, milked perfectly for laughs: a photographer (nonchalant George Chandler) pops up to drolly snap shots of Flagg at opportune moments; a group of schoolchildren intone an anthem to doomed Flagg; a bevy of beauties dressed as historical heroines are paraded on horses (watch closely when Jinx Falkenburg as “Katinka”, the girl who “stuck her finger in a dyke” — and thus saved Holland — is on stage). NB: Walter Connelly deserves special mention in a typecast role which he nonetheless embraces wholeheartedly — that of “Oliver Stone”, ruthless editor of the Morning Star newspaper, who genuinely, sincerely finds it problematic to learn that Flagg isn’t really on death’s doorstep.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Carole Lombard as Hazel Flagg (Peary nominates her as Best Actress of the year in his Alternate Oscars)
  • Fine supporting performance throughout
  • Ben Hecht’s mercilessly skewering script

Must See?
Yes, as a classic screwball comedy.

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One Response to “Nothing Sacred (1937)”

  1. A once-must, for its place in cinema history.

    More mildly amusing than hilarious (as the best in screwball comedy should be), ‘NS’ helped pave the way for what would soon come in this genre. If not wildly memorable in their roles, Lombard and March do make an attractive people. As a writer, Hecht has a tendency to overplay his hand, and his script for ‘NS’ is no exception – so, even though the story is generally light and fluffy, one gets the sense that things are occasionally hammered home (when some wittier dialogue could certainly have helped instead). What may have been a welcome comedy addition in its day now seems more dated than anything else – but the film is short enough that one can appreciate it as an acceptable example of a madcap romp.

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