12 July 2015 | SimonJack
A parody of personalities and the times
"Blessed Event" is a parody of its time and of the media and entertainment of its day including newspapers and radio. But one wonders how exaggerated it really is. The sensationalism of the press and rise of yellow journalism was a frequent part of movie plots in the 1930s. But this one treats of another aspect as well – gossip.
Lee Tracy plays Alvin Roberts, who quickly becomes a famous New York gossip columnist. The movie is billed as a drama and comedy. While there is comedy in Robets' character and some of the funny things he says, the drama of the film isn't lost on the audience. We soon feel the distastefulness of Roberts' gossip column. We soon see the inconsiderate character that he becomes. We soon see his ego and pride and relish for the power he has assumed. These are sad situations, and the film shows the tragic results of such power and behavior. Of course, amidst all of this we have occasional funny lines or clever comments.
This film could be a biopic of a real person. Other reviewers have pointed this out. Roberts is as an obvious copy of Walter Winchell who was then on the rise as the king of gossip. Winchell was the original gossip columnist of Broadway and New York. He rose to such power through the press that politicians, the rich and famous, sports celebrities, gangsters, and actors feared him or tried to get close to him. Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons would become the Walter Winchells of Hollywood.
Lee Tracy's high-pitched voice and rapid-fire delivery closely emulate Winchell's persona. Although carried to the extreme for this film, those also were natural characteristics of Tracy. For a time, he was a leading actor in great demand. Some of his real lifestyle was similar to Winchell's. He was arrogant and seemed to bathe in the power of his position. Tracy also lived a racy, reckless, self-centered life. His temper, rowdiness and bad manners earned him a "bad-boy" reputation. He was given the boot from MGM after a public incidence in Mexico during filming of a movie there. Tracy urinated in public off a balcony and got in fisticuffs with the police.
His later roles about hard-bitten, muck-racking, sensationalist reporters soon wore thin with the public. Tracy returned to the stage and later ended up on television in supporting roles. He had a successful marriage and apparently tamed down before his 1968 death from cancer at age 70.
Winchell's fortunes were quite different. From the mid-1930s on, his star continued to rise through the 1950s. He had his own radio show and his newspaper column was syndicated in more than 2,000 papers worldwide. Winchell was very controversial. He had powerful friends and enemies. He was the first media personality to attack Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazism. He also hated Communism and attacked the National Maritime Union during World War II as being a communist front. He admired Franklin D. Roosevelt and was invited to the White House. He also liked J. Edgar Hoover. Winchell was one of the earliest and most outspoken supporters of civil rights for African Americans. He attacked the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups. He also supported Sen. Joseph McCarthy's efforts to ferret out communists in Hollywood.
Winchell held court at the Stork Club in New York for years. But by the late 1950s, his appeal began to wane. And, his power dropped quickly. His family life was unstable and unconventional and experienced sad deaths. He lived alone his last two years in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He died of cancer at age 74 in 1968.
In this movie, Tracy's Roberts says repeatedly, "Pride ain't power." He has a few funny lines. "I almost started to death for two weeks," was one. The story is all about so-called "entertainment journalism." The supporting cast are fine, with Mary Brian doing an excellent job as Gladys Price, Roberts' secretary and right-hand man.
This movie is interesting in its snapshot of the time and its parodies. It has some historical value for that reason. The cast and production values are all good. And, it's somewhat entertaining.