Nothing Sacred ★★★

A weird meshing of great talents that just seem somewhat unsuited for each other: the talky cynicism of screenwriter Ben Hecht and the rough and tumble casualness of director William Wellman. Fredric March's plays too much of a stern type here to make the laughs stick, and a lot of his lines just kind of drop there; Lombard fairs much better, especially the chemistry with Charles Winninger. She feels looser and more manic than March's single track performance. Hecht's best films (the Hawks comedies, though it's also in his Hitchcock thrillers) are built on the fact that every line/action is hit on a very specific beat, a sort of rhythm that demands a not necessarily limited visual/performative delivery, but one that requires it all to be in step with those beats. Wellman instead let's the thing run with a loose rhythm more apt for his style, less editing and more long takes that give the actors breathing room—a good idea but the wrong script for a world where everyone is a cartoon.

It is not without its laughs—some of the more cynical lines are funny and the recurring photographer beat gets a laugh each time, but something about March and Lombard doesn't click when they seem to be trying to rehearse the lines, which seem just stilted in Wellman's world. Additionally, the ending drops oddly flat—the final "twist" seems a bit too easy. However, the Wellman moments are glorious, two in particular: their night time kiss, shot from an angle in the harbor where you only see their legs, and the film's big literal punching match, which hits the sweet spot of unexpected beats, the kind of thing that make Wellman's comedies funny. The early Technicolor work here (a mandate via Selznick?) is fascinating too, the big stage production in the middle obviously inserted to show of the technique in what is a movie otherwise that doesn't much call for colors.

One shot that I can't make heads or tails of: While still in Warsaw, NY, Lombard and March walk down Main Street USA discussing her possible trip to New York. At one point they stop right in front of a giant tree hanging over the sidewalk that completely blocks their faces. They continue their dialogue for a beat, and then walk under the branch without addressing it. In one way it feels like a subversive trick, in another it just feels awkwardly staged. Would love to know more on how that filmic decision was made.

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