11 October 2008 | robert-temple-1
The Totally Delightful Carole Lombard in a Screwball Comedy
Carole Lombard died tragically in a plane crash at the age of only 34. But before that, she made many memorable films, and this is one of the best. Directed excellently by Wesley Ruggles, it is based on a French play entitled 'Mon Crime' ('My Crime') by Georges Berr and Louis Vernueil. Lombard's wildly wacky personality was probably unique in the cinema. As a comedienne of a certain specific type, she was simply tops. This film is perfectly delightful from beginning to end because of her amazing performance. A very young Fred MacMurray, in only the second year of his feature career, and wearing a bizarre thin moustache which does not suit him, gives admirable support as her stuffy husband. In the story, Lombard plays a woman who writes short stories and lives half in her imagination, and is not wholly in touch with reality. She improvises the most amazing lies on the spot, in a compulsive manner, but also as part of her wifely 'wangling', which is so hilarious to watch. Lombard's charm is so total that no fault which she can possibly have can remain unforgiven. She is, after all, not malicious, but merely manically inventive in her slim grasp of the lineaments of the truth. She plays this character with such irresistible and overwhelming appeal that we accept all of this without question, and we apportion no blame. We just watch her all agog as she stumbles from one complicated situation to another, caused by a mixture of chance and her spontaneous lies. She ends up pleading guilty in court to a murder which she did not commit, because she is so carried away by the prospect of her husband, a lawyer, making a dramatic speech in her defence that she forgets that by lying about being guilty she actually risks being sent to the electric chair! There are some dark and hair-raising elements to this story, which suggest that the French play had a more serious purpose. But this is a Lombard vehicle, and the jolly music on the sound tack continually reassures us that nothing bad will really happen to poor old Carole. John Barrymore crashes his way into this film, and hams it up as an impoverished alcoholic who becomes entangled with the story. We could well have done without him. He always went over the top, and this film is no exception. Una Merkel is delightful and witty as Carole's best friend. Carole came from Indiana and Una came from Kentucky, just next door, and they must have had a thing or two to say to each other in private about their part of the world, but of course when you are elevated to the status of deity by entering a Hollywood pantheon, you all become acquainted as denizens of the Sky. It is such a shame that Carole ascended to the Sky for real at such a ridiculously early age. She was a very great loss indeed to the silver screen, but at least we have gems like this to remind us of her unique talents.