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Film / Libeled Lady

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Libeled Lady is an MGM Screwball Comedy from 1936, directed by Jack Conway and starring Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, William Powell, and Myrna Loy.

Warren Haggerty (Tracy) is the editor of the New York Evening Star. His paper has just published a story about Connie Allenbury (Loy), a rich society lady who supposedly tried to break up the marriage of a British duke. Unfortunately the story turned out not to be true, and Connie is suing Warren's newspaper for a $5 million libel judgment. Haggerty hires ladies' man and former reporter Bill Chandler (Powell) to fix things. Chandler hits on a scheme to discredit Connie's lawsuit: he'll enter into a Sham Marriage, then seduce Connie so she can be portrayed as breaking up another marriage. To set up the scheme, Haggerty supplies Chandler with a convenient wife—his fiancee, Gladys Benton (Harlow), who is tired of Haggerty neglecting her and dodging marriage.

Romantic entanglements and comic hijinks ensue.

One of fourteen, count 'em, fourteen films that Powell and Loy starred in together.


  • Alliterative Title: Antagonist Title to the extent that Connie's an antagonist to the newspaper of the male protagonists.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: "Ching," Warren's very unfortunate stereotype of a manservant.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Warren and Gladys at the end.
  • Becoming the Boast: Bill brags about his fishing skill as a way of getting in good with Connie's father. When he actually is invited to go on a fishing trip with them, he has to learn flycasting in a hurry.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": The closing scene in which Mr. James Allenbury screams for everyone to shut up.
  • Breach of Promise of Marriage: Mentioned. Warren Haggerty has left Gladys Benton waiting at the altar while he rushes to his newspaper office to deal with an emergency. When Gladys shows up and tries to drag him off to the church, he protests:
    Warren: I can't go...the paper's in a jam! We're facing a libel suit!
    Gladys: You're facing a breach of promise suit! If you don't want to marry me, say so!
  • Butt-Monkey: Gladys takes a lot of emotional abuse throughout the movie: Warren leaves her at the altar for the sake of work, she gets roped into playing wife to a man she initially loathes, and her feelings about all this later get manipulated by Bill solely for Connie's benefit. No wonder she wants to screw over all three of them by not granting Bill a divorce.
  • Catchphrase: "The things I do for that newspaper!" from Gladys.
  • Commitment Issues: Warren seems to have a few, as he's always happy for an excuse not to marry Gladys.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Almost everyone to some extent, but Connie especially.
    Bill: I thought that was rather clever of me.
    Connie: Yes, I thought you thought so.
  • Description Cut:
    • Warren hears that Bill is staying at a fancy hotel and says, "He must be in the money." Cut to Bill reading a letter from the hotel demanding $743.60 in unpaid bills.
    • At the river, Connie wonders how Bill is doing and her father replies "Don't worry about him. He's a real outdoor man." - Cut to Bill all soaked in water after he stumbled and fell into the river.
  • Divorce in Reno: See Oops! I Forgot I Was Married below.
    • Also from Warren, when he's trying to talk Gladys into going along with the scheme: "But darling, it's only for a month—maybe less! Then six weeks in Reno."
  • Dramatic Drop: Bill drops the champagne bottle in his hand when Gladys reveals that her Yacatan divorce stands.
  • Driven to Suicide: What Warren hints he will be if the paper is sued.
    Warren: Gladys, do you want me to kill myself?
    Gladys: Did you change your insurance?
  • Follow That Car: Gladys says "Follow that Roadster!" as Bill and Connie speed off from the party to go get married.
  • Fake Danger Gambit:
    • Bill engineers a situation where he can save Connie from a Media Scrum.
    • Towards the end, Warren accuses Bill of stealing Gladys from him, and they get into a fistfight. When Bill hears Gladys calling out in concern for Warren from the next room, he tells Warren, "She'll feel much sorrier for you if I punch you in the nose" and does so.
  • Guile Hero: Bill Chandler.
  • In Love with the Mark: Bill falls in love with Connie for real while romancing her for the job. He switches his strategy from framing her to persuading her to drop the libel suit.
  • Irony: Bill's right that a punch in the nose makes a man look sympathetic to his love interest. However, Gladys ensures he finds that out for himself the hard way.
  • Lampshade Hanging: When Bill starts falling for Connie and works towards getting her to drop the lawsuit outright. While trying to convince Warren this is the best move, he lists the various ways their original con could be ripped apart in court and how they'd all suffer for it.
  • Literal Metaphor: Warren sends off an angry Gladys to crash the Allenburys' big party and says, "There are gonna be fireworks there tonight!" Cut to actual fireworks at the Allenbury party.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Gladys-Warren and Bill-Connie, with Gladys starting to fall for Bill as Warren neglects her.
  • Man Bites Man: At the hotel room Gladys bites Bill in the hand after a kiss - an expression of her dismay over them having to fake intimacy.
  • Slapstick: Warren ineptly fighting with the trout.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Gladys hides the key to her hotel bedroom.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Bill and Gladys marry in order to spring the trap on Connie.
  • Married to the Job: Warren, much to Gladys' frustration—or at least, that's his excuse for not showing up at his wedding this time.
  • Meet Cute: Deliberately engineered by Bill and Warren, as Bill slugs one of the reporters that Warren sent to harass Connie as she boards the boat.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Bill has almost talked Connie into dropping the libel suit when Warren, frustrated at not getting any news, decides to take matters into his own hands. He only succeeds in putting Connie's back up and making her more determined to go through with the suit.
  • Oh, Crap!: Three of the four leads when Oops! I Forgot I Was Married gets subverted.
  • Oops! I Forgot I Was Married: When Gladys confronts Bill, he says that they aren't really married because her Mexican divorce from her previous husband was declared invalid. Gladys then subverts the trope by telling Bill that she went back and got a proper Divorce in Reno.
  • Otaku: Connie's father about fishing.
  • Pretty in Mink: Both Connie and Gladys. Connie's white fur cape is particularly noteworthy.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Bill produces the bill for his hotel room from his pocket and claims to Warren it's an offer from his publisher over $5,000. It backfires when the document drops to the floor and Warren picks it up to read it.
  • Reverse Psychology: How Bill talks Gladys into going along with the Zany Scheme.
  • Rod And Reel Repurposed: Hijinks ensue when Bill practices his non-existent flycasting skills in the hotel room.
  • Romantic Fakeā€“Real Turn: A one-sided case when Gladys falls for Bill who she married as part of a ploy to discredit Connie Allenbury.
  • Runaway Groom: At the beginning of the film, Warren goes to deal with the libel suit emergency instead of showing up for his wedding. Gladys storms into his office in her wedding dress to complain, and it's mentioned that this isn't the first time he's ducked out of marrying her.
  • Screwball Comedy
  • Servile Snarker: Gladys' maid, Tiny.
    Gladys: Oh, I'm so happy! Today's my wedding day!
    Tiny: What, again, Miss Gladys?
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Both Harlow and Loy bring the sexy.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Discussed by Connie who wonders why Bill turns out the lights at 11.
    "And who are you? Cinderella's brother? What happens at the stroke of 12?"
  • Woman Scorned: After getting jerked around in all sorts of way, Gladys intends to make everyone suffer by not granting Bill a divorce, which would keep him from getting together with Connie, and rob Warren of the scoop about the two's sudden marriage.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: "PEER'S WIFE ROUTS RICH PLAYGIRL" is a big-type front-page headline. Maybe Connie wouldn't have sued if Warren had put the story back in the Society section.
  • Zany Scheme: Bill's crackpot scheme to paint Connie as a hussy who breaks up marriages.