Monday, October 7, 2013

Libeled Lady

Libeled Lady
seen on TV @ TCM

Did you know that William Powell and Myrna Loy made 14 movies together? I mean, that's amazing when you think about it - the two of them not only had their own franchise, the Thin Man series (six films), but people loved seeing the two of them together so much that they appeared in eight other movies - including a Best Picture Oscar winner, The Great Ziegfeld - and all of this in the space of only 13 years. No matter how you slice it, this is an incredible streak of success as an on-screen duo, the kind one almost never sees anymore.

In her book I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies, author Jeanine Basinger talks about "love couples," on-screen pairings, often (but not always) in romantic comedies, that the audience tends to imagine as a natural pairing, "married" in the audience's minds if not necessarily in reality.

Powell and Loy might be the quintessential example of this. In films like Libeled Lady, while their characters aren't married, they spent a lot of time together and inevitably fall in love. This was their fifth movie together, after the twin successes of Ziegfeld and the first Thin Man, and by this time I think it's clear how easy and comfortable they feel together. Just look at them!

Powell and Loy looked glamorous, but they weren't sex symbols in the sense that Clark Gable or the young Joan Crawford were considered sexy. Their sex appeal came from their chemistry together, an elusive quality to be sure, but one that's not difficult to recognize, and time has obviously borne this out. 

Powell was the kind of guy who was more dashing than sexy, especially in a tuxedo, but was still a bit rough around the edges. You can hear it in his voice. His kind of charm was different than that of, say, Fred Astaire, to whom everything seemed to come so effortlessly. Powell's characters always seem a bit more roguish, as if they had to work to obtain and perfect their charm. In Lady he gets some choice scenes with Jean Harlow too, his fiancee at the time, so making this movie must've been loads of fun for him!

As for Loy, it's funny, but I used to think she was kinda funny looking. Something about her eyes, or perhaps the shape of her face or her lips, I'm not sure, but while I never thought she was out and out ugly, I was never sold on her looks until watching Lady. Now I totally see it, especially in the scene I linked to above. She looks absolutely stunning in that dress. I'd probably react the same way as Powell if she proposed to me!

The dress in question.
In Lady, Spencer Tracy's newspaper accidentally prints a piece about Loy's sexual escapades that isn't true, and she sues for libel. He uses Powell and Harlow in an elaborate scheme to entrap Loy in a manufactured scandal instead of simply firing the reporter who wrote the article and printing a retraction, like you'd expect a normal newspaper to do. 

It's completely silly, but Powell and Loy make it worth watching (the fishing scene in particular is a hoot), as does Harlow. It begins with this odd pre-credit image of the four stars merrily marching towards us, dressed to the nines, arm in arm in arm in arm, as if they're all so darn happy to be together. I know this was made during the Depression, when the studios wanted to sell glamor, but still. And the movie doesn't end so much as stop.

This was the first movie I watched as part of TCM's Saturday night "Essentials" series, which Robert Osborne co-hosts with Drew Barrymore, of the prolific Barrymore acting clan. For the longest time, even after she became an adult, I could never shake the image of Barrymore as the little kid from E.T., possibly because even as an adult she still looked childlike. Then she got all toned and muscled up for Charlie's Angels and she didn't look like a kid anymore. Now, though, it looks like she's slowly settling into middle age. She's got a kind of Joan Cusack look going now. It's not surprising that she knows classic movies, given the family she comes from, and even if she's not quite as erudite as Osborne on the subject, it's nice to see her in this role.


  1. I love the Thin Man movies and had no clue that they were in so many others together! I must check them out.

  2. One day I'm gonna have to watch the rest of the Thin Man movies myself.

  3. The PBS channel in Buffalo has a movie host who, while introducing "The Thin Man", confessed that as a child he used to wish Myrna Loy and Bill Powell would move next door and become his friends. I think a lot of us feel that way about them as a couple.

    The fishing scene is one of the all-time greats! It never fails to give the giggles.

    I preferred Alec Baldwin as "The Essentials" co-host, maybe because he's about my age and we seem to share a perspective/humour.

  4. I could totally see Alec Baldwin as an Essentials co-host. I have nothing against Drew, I like Drew, but Osborne seems more polished.


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