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Film / Nothing Sacred

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Fake it 'til you make it.

Nothing Sacred is a 1937 Screwball Comedy directed by William A. Wellman, starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March.

Hazel Flagg (Lombard), a young woman from the dull small town of Warsaw, Vermont, is suffering from a fatal case of radium poisoning. Wally Cook (March), a newspaper reporter who is deep in his editor's doghouse, goes to Warsaw to interview Hazel for a story. Just as he arrives there, Hazel finds out she is not dying. It turns out her doctor is well-meaning but incompetent. He'd seen so many cases of radium poisoning that he diagnosed her too hastily after finding she was anemic — which is all that was really wrong with her. Not wanting to miss the free trip to New York that Wally's paper is offering her, Hazel keeps the secret of her perfect health to herself. She rapidly becomes the most talked-about person in town, while falling in love with Wally, and panicking at the thought of her secret being exposed.

Nothing Sacred is one of the best of the screwball comedies of The '30s. Interestingly, it was shot in Technicolor, which had been around for a while but at that time was generally used either as a limited special effect or for big Scenery Porn spectacles. A small-scale film like Nothing Sacred being filmed entirely in color was unusual for the time. It was the only color film Lombard did before her untimely death in a plane crash in 1942.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alcohol Hic: Hazel overindulges while watching a stage show. Dr. Downer lets out a couple of them himself.
  • Black Comedy: Much hilarity is built around Hazel's would-be demise.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: At a fancy stage show in Hazel's honor, where the performers are dressed as the "heroines of history", Pocahontas is represented with long braided hair, a stylized war bonnet, and (why not?) a tomahawk.
  • Bulungi: Wally is conned by a shoe-shine man who claims to be the Sultan of Mazapan.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold: The characters assume that this is how one catches pneumonia. The movie doesn't portray them as being right, but doesn't portray them as being wrong either.
  • Da Editor: Wally's boss, who amusingly happens to be named Oliver Stone. Of course, the director by that name wasn't even born yet when this film was made.
  • Driving a Desk: Flying a desk, as Hazel and Wally fly to New York from Vermont.
  • Exact Words: Wally's editor, enraged after Wally embarrasses the newspaper by falling for the fake Sultan, says "I'm going to remove him from the land of the living!" Cut to Wally, writing obituaries.
  • Faking the Dead: On learning that it is going to be exposed that she does not have radium poison, Hazel decides that her best plan is to fake her suicide before that can happen. This does not run according to plan.
  • Gender Flip: In-universe. One of the "heroines of history" is Katinka, "the Dutch girl who stuck her finger in the dike." The character was a boy in the original local legend, retold in Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates which is where most people know it from.
    • In the Living It Up remake, the fake radiation victim is male (played by Jerry Lewis) and the reporter is female (played by Janet Leigh).
  • Godiva Hair: Used for Lady Godiva herself, when she appears as one of the "heroines of history." (It's actually a theatrical costume designed to look like flowing hair.)
  • Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: Dr. Eggelhoffer's entourage includes two doctors from Moscow and Berlin respectively. No reference is made to either the Stalinist or Nazi regime. Presumably, the Moscow doctor and the Berlin doctor don't talk much about politics around each other.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: Hazel is feeling very bad after a night out partying.
  • Herr Doktor: Dr. Emil Eggelhoffer hails from Vienna. This also applies to the doctor from Berlin.
  • Hypocritical Humor: From Dr. Downer: "I'm disgusted with you, Hazel! Getting drunk in the middle of a memorial. Shame on you!" *hic*
  • Intrepid Reporter: Wally's determined to land the Hazel Flagg story and restore his reputation at the newspaper.
  • Kayfabe: Wally takes Hazel to a wrestling match, comments about how it's all fake, and starts riffing about how everyone in New York is fake and phony.
  • Mock Millionaire: Wally is conned by a shoe-shine man who claims to be the Sultan of Mazapan.
  • Nepotism: While ranting that he hates The Morning Star because of a contest he lost, Dr. Downer mentions that the contest was won by the editor's wife, implying this trope was in effect.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: All the praise that Hazel receives just makes her feel guilty for being a fraud.
  • Playing Sick: The central premise, of course. Also, Hazel uses the thermometer trick to try and fake pneumonia.
  • Pre-emptive Declaration / Would Hit a Girl: Some real doctors are coming to examine Hazel, so she needs to fake a case of pneumonia. Wally has her stash a pre-heated thermometer in her bed to fake a fever, and then tells her to switch the thermometers "after you regain consciousness". While Hazel is trying to figure this out, Wally knocks her out with a punch to the face. (Later she does the same to him.)
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Wally Cook is blamed for reporting a Harlem bootblack Ernest Walker as an African nobleman hosting a charity event. His editor reassigns him to be writing obituaries on a tiny desk located in the file room.
  • The Remake: Remade as Living It Up, a musical starring Martin and Lewis.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Hazel is (supposedly) a Radium Girl, having worked at the watch factory that dominates her small town.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: The story was adapted into the Broadway musical Hazel Flagg in 1953.
  • Secretly Dying: Inverted, as Hazel is secretly not dying.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Pretty cynical. The heroine is lying through her teeth in order to get a cool vacation. The newspapers and government in New York are exploiting her for their own benefit. Wally's editor is delighted to hear that Hazel might really be dying after all. Everyone agrees not to expose her to avoid the embarrassment. In the last scene, Hazel worries that she might be recognized in New York later, but Wally confidently asserts that she was just a passing fad and everyone's already forgotten about her. And that was the Happy Ending!
  • Terse Talker: In a Running Gag, everyone Wally meets in Warsaw is like this at first, especially when he tries asking them about Hazel (only Dr. Downer is exempt from this), as their responses consist of either, "Yep" or "Nope", though there is a reason for it (see Town with a Dark Secret below).
  • To the Tune of...: The song the children sing for Hazel is to the tune of, "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The Warsaw townsfolk impede Wally's efforts to meet Hazel because the town is practically owned by the watch factory where she supposedly got radium poisoning.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Hazel puts the key to the city that she gets from the mayor.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: At first, Hazel really did think her days were numbered.


Video Example(s):


Wally's Editor

After a major screwup, newspaper reporter Wally Cook appeals to his overbearing editor for another chance.

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Main / DaEditor

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