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Film / True Confession

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True Confession (1937) is a Paramount Screwball Comedy starring Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray, their last screen pairing. Notable for being Lombard’s last Paramount film before becoming a free agent, a rarity in the studio dominated industry.

Helen Bartlett (Lombard) is an aspiring writer who has one problem: she’s a pathological liar. In all her endeavours to help her husband, Ken, she always makes matters worse. Ken’s law firm is struggling to find clients, but under no circumstances does he want his wife to work. Helen, on the other hand, knows that they need more money, so she goes behind Ken's back to get a secretarial job with an old friend of the family, Otto Krayler. The only problem is that Otto is murdered, and Helen becomes the prime suspect.

Screwball hijinks ensue as Ken decides to be Helen’s defence lawyer even though she didn’t commit the crime, and a man, Charley (John Barrymore), becomes strangely invested in their lives.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Artistic License – Law: Ken using himself and his witness (Helen) in a “recreation” of what happened with Otto.
  • Attempted Rape: The defence Ken uses on Helen’s behalf to prove that she was justified in killing Otto Krayler. Although Otto was being creepy with Helen, he never attempted to get in her pants.
  • Bad Liar: Helen's whoppers are always discovered.
  • Blackmail: Charley knows that Helen didn’t kill Otto; he has Otto’s wallet and is the real killer. He threatens to tell the police that Helen committed perjury if they don’t give him $30,000.
  • Cassandra Truth: Helen has lied so many times before that when she earnestly says that she didn’t kill her would-be employer, Ken doesn’t believe.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Helen’s friend, Daisy (Una Merkel).
  • False Confession: Zig-Zagged: Helen confesses multiple times to the crime just because she likes making up stories and enjoys thinking up of various motives she could have even though she didn’t commit the murder. The policeman just wants someone to arrest and is completely baffled by her "confessions" of the murder and denials that she didn't commit the crime.
  • Honor Before Reason: Ken, to a T. He won't take any clients who aren't actually innocent, and he's only willing to fight the honest and just fight, because if you don't fight honorably, well, then, it isn't worth winning.
  • Idle Rich: The Bartletts become this after Helen profits off the publicized murder trial, and Ken becomes a recognized lawyer.
  • Only Sane Man: Daisy tries to be this to Helen.
  • Over-the-Shoulder Carry: Ken carries Helen back into their house this way after deciding that he's not going to walk out on her. Today.
  • Police Are Useless: The detective that interviews Helen doesn’t realize that she’s a compulsive liar, and he only wants a confession.
  • The Remake: Remade with Betty Hutton in 1946 as Cross My Heart.
  • Shirtless Scene: MacMurray spends some time in his tiny swim trucks with no shirt on during the lake scenes.
  • Snowball Lie: Helen’s “confession” leads to a whole convoluted web of problems.
  • Straight Man: Ken to Helen’s absolute craziness. (and her friend Daisy as well).
  • Thinking Tic: Helen has one that signals she's come up with a whopper.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Charley pulls out a gun to try and get his blackmail ruse to work, but it accidentally pops open—it’s a cigarette holder.