Nothing Sacred (film)

Nothing Sacred (1937) is a screwball comedy film made by Selznick International Pictures and distributed by United Artists. It was directed by William A. Wellman and produced by David O. Selznick, from a screenplay by Ben Hecht, Ring Lardner Jr. and Budd Schulberg, based on a story by James H. Street. The film stars Carole Lombard and Fredric March, with a supporting cast that includes Walter Connolly, Charles Winninger, Margaret Hamilton, Hattie McDaniel, Frank Fay and Max Rosenbloom.

The lush, Gershwinesque music score was by Oscar Levant, with additional music by Alfred Newman and Max Steiner and a swing number by Raymond Scott's Quintet. The film was shot in Technicolor by W. Howard Greene. The costume design for Carole Lombard's gowns was by Travis Banton.

Behind the craziness lies an extremely cynical view of newspapers, reporters and the stories they go after, which was a Hecht specialty (see his play "The Front Page" and subsequent films The Front Page and His Girl Friday.


New York newspaper reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) tries to pass off an ordinary African-American (Troy Brown) as an African nobleman hosting a charity event. The original cut had some gross ridicule added to the simple comeuppance that remains when the man's wife appears to ruin his scheme, but this was removed. Wally Cook is demoted to writing obituaries. He begs his boss Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly) for another chance.

Wally is sent to Vermont to interview Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a woman supposedly dying of radium poisoning. When Cook finally locates Hazel, she is crying because her doctor has told her that she is not dying. Unaware of this, he invites her to New York as the guest of the Morning Star newspaper.

The newspaper uses her story to increase its circulation. She receives a ticker tape parade and the key to the city, and becomes an inspiration to many. In addition, she and Wally fall in love.

When it is finally discovered that Hazel is not really dying, city officials decide that it would be better to avoid embarrassment by having it seem that she committed suicide. Hazel and Wally get married and quietly set sail for the tropics.


Background and notes

  • This was Lombard's only Technicolor film.
  • Max Rosenbloom, who appears briefly in the film, gave Lombard boxing lessons to prepare her for her fight scene with Fredric March.
  • The first screwball comedy filmed in color, Nothing Sacred also represents the first use in a color film of process effects, montage and rear screen projection. Backgrounds for the rear projection were filmed on the streets of New York. Paramount Pictures and other studios refined this technique in their subsequent color features.
  • Ben Hecht is credited with writing the screenplay in two weeks on a train. He adapted the story Letter to the Editor by James H. Street which had been first been published in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan. Hecht wrote a role for his friend John Barrymore in the film, but David Selznick refused to use him as Barrymore had become by then an incurable alcoholic. This caused a rift between Hecht and Selznick, and Hecht walked off the picture. Budd Schulberg and Dorothy Parker were called in to write the final scenes and several others also made contributions to the screenplay, including: David O. Selznick, William Wellman, Sidney Howard, Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman and Robert Carson.
  • Lombard had several strongmen bind director William Wellman in a straight-jacket in order to have his undivided attention. (Courtesy TCM)
  • During a production break, Lombard and March took the rented fire engine and went careening around the Selznick production lot. (Courtesy TCM)
  • Lombard stated that of her films, this was one of her personal favorites.
  • According to William Wellman Jr., Janet Gaynor had originally been cast as Hazel Flagg to follow up on the success of A Star is Born. However, when William Wellman Sr. met Carole Lombard, he knew that no other actress could do the part justice, and convinced Selznick to cast her.


Ben Hecht's screenplay was also the basis of a Broadway musical called Hazel Flagg (1953), as well as Living It Up (1954), a movie starring Dean Martin in the Charles Winninger role, Jerry Lewis in the Carole Lombard role, and Janet Leigh in the Fredric March role.

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