10 December 2008 | HarlowMGM
Wildly Underrated Black Comedy with Lombard at Her Best
TRUE CONFESSION is one of the unsung gems of the 1930's, a brilliant black comedy that surprisingly is often written off as a misfire. I think it may be because it is so remarkably different than other 1930's comedies which usually feature lovable and endearing characters in a charming situation; in TRUE CONFESSION we get a certified pathological liar in Lombard and a downright menacing villain in Barrymore. Lombard starts as a woman finds herself falsely accused of murder, to help her husband's floundering career as a lawyer she falsely admits to the crime!! This wacky, envelope-pushing comedy is a thorough delight and makes the cynicism in a more famous Lombard picture, NOTHING SACRED, seem downright sugary. Alas, this picture, clearly inspired by the plot of the famous 1920's musical CHICAGO, was obviously too audacious in theme for 1930's audiences as it would be in 1942 when Ginger Rogers filmed the musical as a song-less comedy in ROXIE HART. CHICAGO was never really appreciated until it's 1975 revival and it's later film version with Renee Zellwegger, but critical respect for ROXIE HART came around with time and I believe it's time for TRUE CONFESSION too to get a new reevaluation as a pioneer black comedy.
Lombard is at her best as the novelist who couldn't tell the truth if she wanted to; Barrymore is superb in an over-the-top caricature of as seedy adventurer. Una Merkel is absolutely perfect as Carole's best friend, this has to be one of her greatest roles. Fred MacMurray is a solid presence as Lombard's devoted and idealistic husband and very sexy too, especially in those swimsuit scenes near the end. Famed movie musical chorine Toby Wing is fun in a bit part as the mistress/"secretary" of the deceased and Hattie McDaniel is hilarious in her few scenes and has perhaps the best line in the picture as she quizzes MacMurray about possibly representing her in as of yet uncommitted crime. Beautifully photographed by Ted Tetzlaff and brilliantly directed Wesley Ruggles, TRUE CONFESSION has more potential to become a cult film than any as of yet undiscovered 1930's comedy that I've seen.