Today, I'm writing about the screwball comedies made by actress Carole Lombard.
This article is part of Carole Lombard: The Profane Angel Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.
During the mid-1930s. screwball comedy was one of the glories of American film. While there were several actresses who excelled in the genre -- Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Jean Arthur -- only one leading lady earned the title of old Hollywood's screwball queen. Carole Lombard was the epitome of both glamour and comedy to many thirties moviegoers, equally adept at slinking around in designer gowns and throwing punches in broad slapstick comedy. The six films I'm looking at today showcase the best comedy work of Lombard's career, but before I delve into those roles, here's a little background.
Lombard was born Jane Alice Peters on Oct. 6, 1908, in Fort Wayne, Ind., as the third child in a wealthy family. Lombard had an idyllic childhood in Fort Wayne where one of her favorite activities was going to the local movie house and imitating the stars she saw on the silver screen. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, her mother moved she and her two brothers to Los Angeles in 1914. Lombard had a typical Southern California childhood, going to the beach and playing outdoors with friends, until she landed her first film role at age 12 in the silent melodrama The Perfect Crime (1921).
Lombard then spent most of the late 1920s and early 1930s knocking around Hollywood in a wide variety of roles from slapstick comedy -- she was one of Mack Sennett's bathing beauties for a time -- to Westerns, but she earned the most notoriety in a series of musicals with George Raft that showed off her considerable dancing skills. However, Lombard's big breakthrough came in 1934 when director and Lombard's second cousin Howard Hawks cast her as the female lead in the early screwball, Twentieth Century (1934).
Twentieth Century (1934), dir. Howard Hawks.
|John Barrymore and Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century (1934).|
Hands Across the Table (1935), dir. Mitchell Leisen
|Fred MacMurray and Carole Lombard in Hands Across the Table (1935).|
My Man Godfrey (1936), dir. Gregory La Cava
|Carole Lombard and William Powell in My Man Godfrey (1936).|
Nothing Sacred (1937), dir. William Wellman
|Carole Lombard and Fredric March in Nothing Sacred (1937).|
True Confession (1937), dir. Wesley Ruggles
Lombard followed Nothing Sacred with one her wackiest screwballs, True Confession, in which she plays a compulsive liar married to a straight-laced prosecutor (MacMurray), who just can't stop herself from confessing to a murder she didn't commit. True Confession was a big hit at the time, but it has since garnered a somewhat mixed reputation for its unusual plot (Leonard Maltin calls it "alarmingly unfunny" in his classic movie guide). The silly plot does require that audiences suspend disbelief (it also helps if you have a high tolerance for John Barrymore's hammy thesping), but Lombard is never anything less than charming in one of her most accomplished comedy performances. DVD.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), dir. Alfred Hitchcock
|Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard in Mr and Mrs. Smith (1941).|
Lombard's last film was director Ernst Lubitsch's dark satire about the Nazi takeover of Poland, To Be or Not to Be (1942). She gives a sparkling performance as one-half of a theatrical power couple (the other half is a never-better Jack Benny) who vamps a German spy with her glamour and sophistication. Sadly, Lombard died in an airplane accident before this movie was released, leaving behind one of old Hollywood's brightest legacies as America's screwball queen.