Monday 6 July 2020

Movie Review: Nothing Sacred (1937)

A bland screwball comedy, Nothing Sacred offers cynical commentary about journalism but is otherwise constrained by a thin premise and delivers few good laughs.

New York City newspaperman Wally Cook (Fredric March) needs a good story to repair his damaged reputation. He convinces editor Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly) to send him to the small town of Warsaw, Vermont, to cover a human interest sob story about Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a young woman who is apparently dying due to radium poisoning.

Just before meeting Wally, Hazel learns she is fine and healthy, and was just misdiagnosed by Doctor Enoch Downer (Charles Winninger). She hides the good news from Wally and instead accepts his invitation for an all-expenses-paid trip to New York, with Enoch tagging along. The newspaper pumps Hazel into the sad darling of the social scene, but the truth threatens to come out when expert doctors from Europe arrive to examine her.

Despite a running time of just 77 minutes, decent technicolor vibrancy and good shots of the Manhattan skyline, Nothing Sacred runs out of steam early and ends in a mess. The idea of Fredric March and Carole Lombard trading punches must have seemed funny to someone at some point, but it's just a ghastly and desperate ploy to inject life into a moribund plot. 

By the time the supposedly funny climax rolls around, the one-joke premise of Hazel using her fake ailment to milk a good time away from the rural doldrums has run its course, Ben Hecht's script stumbling into repetitiveness (Hazel fakes another illness) and absurdities (a half-hearted phoney suicide attempt). A lukewarm romance between Hazel and Wally is a clunky add-on, director William A. Wellman unable to generate much heat between his two stars.

The better moments poke fun at the culture of journalism willing to take advantage of any story to sell copies, and savvy exploiters happy to turn the tables and dupe the media for personal profit. Nothing Sacred exposes a no-limits culture, in a creatively limited package.

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