Nothing Sacred, 1937, United Artists. Starring Carole Lombard, Fredric March. Directed by William A. Wellman. Technicolor, 74 minutes.
Wally Cook (Fredric March) is a reporter who needs to prove he isn’t a fraud—and fast. He learns of a woman with six months to live after a diagnosis of radium poisoning, and races to make her plight his next big human interest story. The problem is, Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), the patient in question, has just gotten a clean bill of health.
But Hazel sees a chance to get out of the small Vermont town she’s always called home and experience life in the big city. Not bothering to correct Wally’s assumption that she’s terminally ill, she lets him fly her to New York. Soon, she’s a heroine on the scale of Joan of Arc or Pocahontas. The city embraces her, and even the governor gets involved.
Her conscience catches up with her, however, at about the same time her lie does.
Lombard had already established herself as one of the best, and likely the most attractive, of the screwball actresses. This film, with its strong script and the rare use of technicolor, helped solidify her standing. As popular as she was with audiences, she was a favorite of directors as well. Lombard would battle for what she wanted, but once a final decision had been made, she accepted it. From there she would remain wholly committed to the production of the film as established, throwing herself into the part and defending every aspect the producers had decided upon.
The decision to shoot in technicolor paid off, although the film industry was still slow to accept it for common use. Today, whether due to the lack of quality in the technology of the time or degradation of the film in the years since, the color is, at times, distracting. It fades from one hue to the other, and skin tone is inevitably ruddy. It seems unlikely Lombard’s hair was actually that brassy. In some ways the film looks like early attempts at colorizing films, only not as good.
The script was written by Ben Hecht, who was also responsible for His Girl Friday (or rather, The Front Page, along with Charles MacArthur). It once again displays a cynical view of journalism, focusing on deception and trickery to get the story. Numerous notable authors of the time were said to have contributed to the final script, including Dorothy Parker, Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. It is witty and sharp, and the humor holds up today.
Although it was more common at that time for comedies to receive Oscar nominations, Nothing Sacred had none. Still, Lombard’s performance was hailed as equal to her Academy Award-nominated role the year before in My Man Godfrey, and justifiably so.
Although less well known today, this is one of the best screwball comedies of its time, and remains relevant and worth the watch for modern audiences.