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Nothing Sacred (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 7, 2011 by  



 “Nothing Sacred” is a delightfully, fun Hollywood classic that showcases Carole Lombard’s comedic brilliance but also a screwball comedy that was the first to be filmed in Technicolor and a comedy film that was not afraid to satirize American life and society.  A wonderful performance by Carole Lombard, a clever screenplay by Ben Hecht and a film that still has its relevance today.

Images courtesy of © 2011 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Nothing Sacred

FILM RELEASE: 1937

DURATION: 73 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Technicolor, 1:33:1, 1080p High Definition, 2.0 Mono

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: December 20, 2011

Directed by William A. Wellman

Screenplay by Ben Hecht

Suggested by a story by James H. Street

Producer: David O. Selznick

Music by Oscar Levant

Cinematography by W. Howard Greene

Edited by James E. Newcom

Art Direction by Lyle R. Wheeler

Set Decoration by Edward G. Boyle

Costume Design by Travis Banton, Walter Plunkett

Starring:

Carole Lombard as Hazel Flagg

Fredric March as Wally Cook

Charles Winninger as Dr. Enoch Downer

Walter Connolly as Oliver Stone

Sig Ruman as Dr. Emil Eggelhoffer

Frank Fay as Master of Ceremonies

Troy Brown Sr. Ernest Walker

Max “Slampsie Maxie” Rosenbloom as Max Levinsky

He’s an unscrupulous newspaperman eager to exploit the story of a young woman’s death by radium poisoning. She knows she’s not really dying but can’t pass up a free trip to New York with all the trimmings. So begins William Wellman’s wonderful black comedy NOTHING SACRED, starring Frederic March and Carole Lombard.

Legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht’s sharply satirical screenplay, depicting the morbid nature of the scandal-hungry public, is more relevant than ever – with such wonderfully comic lines as “Doctor, I want to know the worst… we go to press in fifteen minutes!”

Wellman keeps the comic pace frantic in one of the screen’s cleverest screwball comedies. With a supporting cast featuring some of Hollywood’s funniest character actors, including Margaret Hamilton, Charles Winniger and Walter Connolly, NOTHING SACRED is nothing less than hysterical.

What happens when you bring together famous Hollywood producer David O. Selznick (“Gone with the Wind”, “Rebecca”, “Spellbound”, “King Kong”), talented filmmaker William Wellman (“The Public Enemy”, “Battleground”, “A Star is Born”) and popular screenwriter Ben Hecht (“Notorious”, “Wuthering Heights”, “Spellbound”)?

The result of their collaboration produced “Nothing Sacred”, a 1937 screwball comedy starring comedic actress Carole Lombard (“My Man Godfrey”, “To Be or Not to Be”, “Made for Each Other”) and Fredric March (“A Star is Born”, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “The Best Years of Our Lives”).

Most importantly, the film is historically known for being the first screwball comedy filmed in color (via Technicolor) and also the first film to use color film for effects, montage and rear screen projection.  And also a film which many screwball comedy fans believe to be one of the best “screwball comedies” made in the 1930’s and a film which earned Lombard the title of “Queen of Screwball Comedy”.

“Nothing Sacred” is a film which Ben Hecht adapted from a story titled “Letter to the Editor” by James H. Street (published in Hearst’s “International-Cosmoplitan”) and was originally written by Hecht for his good friend John Barrymore.  Unfortunately, Selznick was not interested in hiring Barrymore (because of his bouts with alcoholism) and created a rift between Hecht and Selznick.  Needless to say, there are several uncredited writers who contributed to the film but it’s lasting reminder is it’s clever screenplay, making it the first screwball comedy to make scathing observations about American life and society.   And where many comedies including romantic comedies have looked at New York City as a place of love, “Nothing Sacred” is a heartless and corrupt city in which people react to whatever the fad is of the day created by writers of newspaper publications.

And having been in the public domain for years, Kino Lorber has now obtain the rights to the film and will be releasing “Nothing Sacred” in HD on Blu-ray in Dec. 2011.

“Nothing Sacred” is a film that begins with star reporter Wally Cook (played by Fredric March), a writer who is being honored at a celebration among New York City’s social elite by his boss Oliver Stone (played by Walter Connolly) of the Morning Star newspaper publication for bringing a sultan, a guest of honor to New York City who has pledged to donate money to the proposed new arts center, the “Morning Star Temple”.

But unfortunately, it was all a sham and the sultan happens to be a shoeshiner.  The “exclusive” story which the Morning Star had promoted in their newspapers turned out to be a hoax and now the newspaper has become ridiculed.  And as for Wally, he has lost his status as a reporter, shamed to the point where he has become an obituary writer.

But Wally would do anything to get his position back from his reluctant boss, but he is given one last chance to find an major exclusive that would bring prestige back to the Morning Star.

Wally finds one lead and it happens to be in a small town of Warsaw in Vermont.  A town that doesn’t take too kindly too New York City folks.  They can tell New Yorkers by the way they look, moreso, how journalists look and they absolutely despise them.  The kids throw trash towards Wally, one even bites him.  And the adults are not to helpful as well as Wally tries to ask them if they know who Hazel Flagg is.

Wally is looking for Hazel (played by Carole Lombard) because she is a woman who is diagnosed with radium poisoning and is dying.

What Wally doesn’t know is that Hazel is perfectly fine.  She was misdiagnosed but her doctor (and also an alcoholic), Enoch Donner (played by Charles Winninger) tells her that she is healthy.  But because those who live in Warsaw receive a $200 bonus if they die in the city (courtesy of the watch company which owns the city), she wanted to use the money to visit New York City.  And now, it will never happen, so she leaves the doctor’s office in tears.

But Wally recognizing the photo of Hazel now has found her and before she can even say many words, Wally invites her to New York City as a guest of the Morning Star.  But instead of telling Wally the truth, this can be the only chance she can leave Warsaw to visit NYC and because Wally knows her story can be the “feel good” exclusive that would be great for his career, he keeps adding more ice to the cake and entices Hazel.

And as Hazel questions Wally of why a city would care if she was dying, he tells her that she would become a symbol of courage and heroism.

So, Hazel along with Dr. Donner are taken to New York City and immediately, New Yorkers fall in love with Hazel and the Morning Star newspaper’s circulation numbers increase.  She is given a key to the city and people cry and applaud her as they believe she is facing death.

But the longer she keeps up the charade, she starts to feel guilty when Wally starts to fall in love with her (and she with him), and Wally would do all it takes in order to help her become healthy, which includes bringing one of the best doctors in Europe to check up on her.

Knowing that the doctor would reveal her lie, Hazel contemplates of how she can continue the charade or at least end it.  But can she?

VIDEO:

“Nothing Sacred” is presented in 1080p High Definition and is mastered in HD from an original Technicolor nitrate 35 mm print, preserved by George Eastman House Motion Picture Department.  With that being said, let me first preface with my personal viewing of “Nothing Sacred” in the past and up to this Blu-ray release.

It’s important to note that this film is a very early Technicolor film and having owned this film on DVD via a variety of sources, I have to admit that when I first heard that “Nothing Sacred” was coming out on Blu-ray, I was surprised.   Mainly because with previous public domain and DVD releases, while the film looked good on DVD (especially for a film of its age), many copies suffered from an abundance of white specks, scratches, color fluctuations and frankly, the film although watchable, I didn’t know if there were any original film negatives and sources to make an HD print.

So, when one approaches this film on Blu-ray, bare-in-mind, this is an early Technicolor film and even for us who watched it via public domain, it was not the great of quality when it was featured on DVD, despite a remastering by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), those remasters were not released on DVD.

“Nothing Sacred” is a film that looks much better than its DVD counterparts.  For one, a lot of those constant white specks are nearly gone, but as one can expect from HD, the noise is enhanced much more than its DVD counterpart.  The film is demonstrated very well via its Technicolor glory but for those not familiar with early color films, some who are just now watching classics on Blu-ray may wonder why a black and white film created in the teens or ’20s and released on Blu-ray looks better than this film.  And the fact is that this is a Technicolor film and not black and white.  And Hollywood would eventually get better with technology when it came to their approach to using Technicolor that one should not think a Technicolor film shot in the 1930’s will be as colorful as the Technicolor films of the ’60s.  It’s not the same.

No, this Blu-ray release is not going to look pristine.  For fans of the film who saw how things were before, will notice the details and how much things look better on Blu-ray, will be pleased with the picture quality upgrade in HD.  Small details such as seeing the fabric on hats, on clothing is much more visible but at the same time, as mentioned, noise is evident.  Where on the DVD, DNR was applied and things look a bit blurry, Kino Lorber has been a company that is known not to obtain something different or better than its original film source that it was taken from.  Kino Lorber is a small company and restorations are quite expensive, but the company has been good with choosing films that they believe would look better on Blu-ray and with “Nothing Sacred”, it looks better than any previous public domain video or DVD that I have seen by far.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Nothing Sacred” is presented in 2.0 LPCM Monaural.    In the original public domain videos and DVD that I own, while dialogue (and other ambiance such as the train whistling when Wally arrives in Warsaw) is clear and understandable, those older videos do showcase audio with a bit off hissing.  I didn’t have this problem with “Nothing Sacred” on Blu-ray. Although the opening musical scene for the intro. sounds OK,  fortunately, for the majority of the film, there is a good balance with the two mono tracks to hear the dialogue clearly as well as the overall ambiance, especially during moments of larger crowds.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Nothing Sacred” comes with the following special feature:

  • Trailers – Featuring trailers for “Nothing Sacred”, “A Star is Born” and “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman”.

I first discovered “Nothing Sacred” not long after I graduated from high school.  During my very early college years, as a collector of early cinema, I made a purchase of an older 8×11 photo of Carole Lombard from “Nothing Sacred” and from that moment on, it would introduce me to the work of Ben Hecht, William Wellman, Fredric March but moreso, the acting of Carole Lombard.

While “My Man Godfrey” will always be my favorite Lombard film of all time, her performance in “Nothing Sacred” is what defines the actress as “The Queen of Screwball Comedy”.  “My Man Godfrey” made Lombard a star, while “Nothing Sacred” re-affirmed to everyone that she was no one-hit wonder.  As I felt that Lombard had shown her comedic side since her early silent years, there was something about her that showed wonderful potential in “My Man Godfrey” (1936) but moreso, in “Nothing Sacred” (and she goes even deeper as actress in her next film “True Confessions”).

But “Nothing Sacred” was a film that showed that Lombard can be crazy, fun and infectious.  And this film was a perfect vehicle for the actress.

Actor Fredric March absolutely compliments her emotional transformation from a woman who is surprised, a woman who is drunk, a woman who is emotional and a woman who eventually gets slugged in the face.  It’s sort of a pre-cursor to a Lucille Ball-type of acting but in this case, Lombard was among the first leading ladies to champion “Screwball Comedy”.  I think about what author James Harvey wrote in his book “Romantic Comedy in Hollywood” about Carole Lombard and that unlike other actresses who transform to the role, what we see in a Lombard film is her.  An intelligent woman who can laugh, who can have fun, who can play dumb for amusement but for the most part, “straightforward, delightful and no-nonsense”.

While Fredric March has this knack of playing these type of roles of men wanting to save women (as he did in Lubitsch’s 1993 film “Design for Living”), what you don’t expect to see onscreen is a leading man slugging the woman she loves in the face and seeing a strong-willed woman returning it right back.  An interesting juxtaposition to the grapefruit scene in Wellman’s 1931 film “The Public Enemy” with James Cagney and Jean Harlow.

As for the Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber, while I can foresee some people who are not familiar with the film, possibly expecting a pristine 1937 film, “Nothing Sacred” from what I have seen in the past, had never looked perfect. But I will say that this Blu-ray release does look much better than the public domain videos that I have watched on video and DVD.  Early Technicolor, even watching earlier versions of color films via “Process 4” Technicolor  or earlier versions than that, have not looked great on video.  But in the context of those familiar with the earlier technology, “Nothing Sacred” does look quite impressive.  Especially to see New York City in color during the late ’30s, that was fun!

While I do wish there were more special features other than the three trailers (perhaps I have been spoiled by the older public domain DVD’s of “Nothing Sacred” as certain companies have tried to capitalize by adding Carole Lombard public domain silent films as special features), overall as a Blu-ray release, for one, I’m very grateful that Kino Lorber has brought a significant screwball comedy to Blu-ray and second, to finally see a Carole Lombard film in HD.  I can only hope there are more plans of bringing more Szelnick films to Blu-ray in the near future.

“Nothing Sacred” still maintains its humor over 70-years later, some parts are actually quite dated.  From the opening scene with Black actor Troy Brown in a stereotypical role to the tabloid-style newspaper references that were popular America around that era, sensationalism still has relevance in today’s media.  Where we see how far newspapers would go in order to gain readership, even praising a “hero” without fact-checking, it’s no different from today’s Kardashian-filled news headlines to Oprah’s Book Club debacle that happened years ago.

But while society sees it as part of today’s world, back then, in the ’30s,  I can only imagine how things were manufactured for the point of entertainment and sales.   “Nothing Sacred” was rather interesting to see NYC’s portrayal as corrupted and to see a woman like Hazel, so wanting to go to New York City but then to experience it and see that perhaps, that small town of Warsaw, was not as bad as it is compared to the soul-sucking few days of life that she had while in New York.

It’s one thing to watch a film about a lie but it’s Hazel’s relationship to a city that she dreamed of visiting and now experiencing was what I found quite intriguing.    While the movie is about a lie in relation to a faking of death, “Nothing Sacred” is a film that probably had more to do back then of showing viewers the possibility of hope for people to remain true to themselves, despite a collective becoming lemmings to insincere media.  A message still relevant to our society more than ever.

Yes, the film has a message but at the end of the day, this is a comedy.  A film where people came out to see the vibrant and colorful Carole Lombard doing what she does best and that is to make people laugh.

And for the most part, it’s a clever screenplay to come from Ben Hecht who has always been instrumental in his legendary writing career in bringing the most out of a film’s characters.  He may have originally written the film for John Barrymore, but it was producer David D. Selznick that wanted to capitalize on Lombard.  Selznick wanted to capitalize on Carole’s sexiness, her humor and overall brilliance and that is the efficacy of what “Nothing Sacred” will be remembered for… a film that showcases Carole Lombard’s comedic brilliance.

“Nothing Sacred” is recommended for fans of early American cinema.

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