CLFP: “Nothing Sacred” (1937)

carole lombard

The Carole Lombard Filmography Project is back in full swing, after your humble author took it upon herself to put it on hold until the Dueling Divas Blogathon was finished. I am happy to say that Carole has come back, and the next film to be covered is one of my favorites, and a hallmark film in her career.

Much is made of Carole Lombard’s angelic and ethereal beauty. Despite her tragically short time in movies she was considered to be one of the great beauties of the 1930’s, and never was her beauty more apparent than in Nothing Sacred, the first screwball comedy shot in Technicolor and Carole Lombard’s first and only feature shot using the relatively recent invention. Nothing Sacred holds a place as one of the very first films to have made full use of Technicolor technology, and the visuals are strikingly soft, almost like a watercolor painting.

When discussing this film in film circles, it has become something of an expectation to bring up what a shame it was that Carole Lombard didn’t have a chance to make more movies in Technicolor, as color film was clearly a medium on which she could make her mark. Her gentle features are highlighted and accentuated, and it is difficult for the viewer to look at anyone else when she is onscreen.

Lombard plays Hazel Flagg, a young woman who has been told she is dying of radium poisoning. A New York newspaperman named Wally Cook (Fredric March), demoted to the obituary section as punishment for trying to pass an ordinary Harlem resident off as an African prince at a charity event, learns of her story and decides it would make a sensational news piece. However, little does Wally know that Hazel has just been told by her doctor that the diagnosis was incorrect, and she is actually in perfect health. When Wally goes to her hometown in Vermont, Hazel jumps at the chance to leave her small town in Vermont and go to New York City, not telling Wally that the diagnosis was incorrect. The name of Hazel Flagg becomes synonymous with tragedy, and no one doubts the validity of her story. But when Wally calls in a renowned expert on radium poisoning, everything begins to fall apart in hilarious ways.

Though Nothing Sacred is indeed considered a screwball comedy, it is strikingly dry in comparison to the zany and madcap My Man Godfrey, released the previous year. Nothing Sacred is a far tighter film–instead of being character-driven like My Man Godfrey, the complex satire that makes up the plot is the primary focus in this movie.

Underneath the humor, Nothing Sacred also makes a serious commentary on the influence of the news media and the nature of fame. Hazel Flagg symbolizes the ability of a single person to dupe and manipulate the media in order to achieve recognition, and Wally Cook is an example of the exceptional lengths to which a newspaperman will go to get a story. These are problems that continue to be relevant today, and in the aftermath of some recent political events the movie is all the more poignant. Through screwball humor and comedic antics, with Carole Lombard giving a magnificent comedic performance as Hazel, Nothing Sacred succeeds in touching upon a serious issue in journalism with aplomb, sharp wit, and a fair amount of irony.

See you next time!

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10 responses to “CLFP: “Nothing Sacred” (1937)

  1. Just a clarification: This was the only feature Carole made in three-strip Technicolor. She appeared in two-strip Technicolor sequences in a few Mack Sennett shorts, and there also are home movies of her and Clark Gable in color that have been extras on Lombard DVDs.

  2. Ah yes, thanks for that clarification! I have seen the home movies of her and Gable in Technicolor, and I love them. They were so devoted to each other, I have a feeling that if Carole had lived, they would have been one of those rare Hollywood couples that stay devoted to each other for life until they both die of old age.

  3. Great post. Thank you!

  4. Nicely written, again. What do you think the attraction of newspaper men was (ever any woman)? The well known had a star quality and they were in the know and influential. Hollywood sure wanted to be on good terms with the papers. The Oscars have become a war, where the studios try to influence the buzz going around, similar to the Golden Age of publicity control.

  5. Hi Marty! I think the appeal of newspapermen might have to do with a bit of status involved with it. It’s a very specific profession, you have the ability to be the first to get information, you have the scoop on certain topics, etc. and that might be appealing to people in general. In terms of Hollywood wanting to be on good terms with the papers, they certainly did. Though I think they could get away with this kind of story, especially since the message was buried underneath all the comedy. They couldn’t, however, get away with insulting Louella Parsons or Hedda Hopper. A vengeful column would ensure terrible results for the movie. It seems the rule was this: as long as they didn’t insult Louella, Hedda, or the Catholic church, they’re good to go!

  6. Let’s not forget that many of the screenwriters who came to Hollywood during the transition to talking pictures were former newspapermen, such as Ben Hecht (“Nothing Sacred,” “The Front Page,” “Twentieth Century”). And remember the classic cable Herman Mankiewicz sent him, encouraging Hecht to come west: “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.”

  7. This is a piece about Nothing Sacred that touches upon elements I’ve never seen discussed before. Your analysis of the commentary on journalism and publicity is right on. As for the movie itself, I thought your description of it’s type of screwball comedy was really well-thought out: “… instead of being character-driven like My Man Godfrey, the complex satire that makes up the plot is the primary focus in this movie.” Excellent and entertaining, Lara!

  8. Thanks Becky! The two movies, both hallmarks of Carole Lombard’s career, are pretty intriguing to compare. They’re so similar, yet so different!

  9. I’m just discovering Lombard, so this is wonderful!

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