DUELING DIVAS: “Libeled Lady” vs. “Easy to Wed”

This post is in conjunction with the 4th annual Dueling Divas Blogathon hosted by BACKLOTS, and I want to thank you Backlots for letting this “new blog on the block” participate.

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I’m entering a blogathon under my own steam this time around, having debuted my new blog CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch a week ago. The divas I present for this duel will be a little unusual because instead of it being two people, I’d like to present two classic M-G-M films: “Libeled Lady” ( 1936 ) and “Easy to Wed” ( 1946 ). Both films are perfectly cast with a quartet ( make that, octet ) of some of the brightest stars M-G-M has to offer.

I’d like to pit these two in a head-to-head duel, perhaps not as sworn enemies, but as friendly rivals with the buffer of ten years between them. There are differences between the remakes to be sure. I’ll compare and contrast the two. In this duel, no one gets hurt and everybody wins.

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“LIBELED LADY” ( directed by Jack Conway )

Connie Allenbury brings a $5 million dollar lawsuit for libel against a newspaper. An editor and head reporter conspire to put her in a compromising position so she will drop that lawsuit. The best laid plans…

LIBELED LADY ( III )

This is what I call, my “Martini” of a movie. It sparkles, fizzes, tickles and crackles. Its lines are a little cleaner. It’s an 8 x 10 glossy of a film with these points:

* The glorious shimmering gleam of black & white

* The search for Bill Chandler is done with a montage of different people

* Powell & Harlow marry to put the scheme in play

* Powell sails across the Atlantic to try and entrap Loy

* Powell lies about fly fishing

* No competition for Loy’s affections by other suitors

* No big musical numbers

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

“EASY TO WED” ( directed by Edward Buzzell )

EASY TO WED ( V )

* M-G-M’s crayon box of vibrant colors

* The search for Bill Chandler is done singly by Warren Haggerty using a telephone

* Wynn tricks Johnson and Ball and really marries them in the movie

* Johnson lies about duck hunting

* A half-hearted attempt at a rival for Esther Williams’ affections with that band leader. (Hey, if you really want to give Van Johnson some real competition throw in the swarthy, hot Latino charms of Montalban or Lamas. Hey wait…Johnson’s s’posed to WIN the girl! Nevermind.)

* Two big musical numbers as only M-G-M can do in the 40’s

“Libeled Lady” is as tight as a drum; a stream-lined laser beam of story telling from beginning to end. “Easy to Wed” is slightly bloated with those musical numbers. Please don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean bloated in a bad way, really. The numbers are there to show off both ladies to their gorgeous technicolor advantage. Williams is a magnificent specimen and Lucy, well she’s just made for color with that blazing red hair. I love Ethel Smith and her hepcat organ playing. It tickled me to see the charity ball number with the Mexican/South American theme. Ahhh, the good ol’ “Good Neighbor Policy” is in full swing in the 40’s. Whatever happened to that policy? Boy, how times have changed.

It’s crazy to make a head-to-head comparison of the cast, right?  The “Libeled Lady” cast can shade their performance, whereas the “Easy To Wed” cast plays it just a tad broader. I might be crazy to compare apples to oranges, Ali to Louis, DiMaggio to Jeter, Sinatra to Bing…or Dino…or Nat King Cole.  But awwwww what the heck…let’s go crazy:

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MYRNA LOY / ESTHER WILLIAMS – (( CONNIE ALLENBURY ))

LIBELED LADY ( XVI ) EASY TO WED ( II )

Whereas Gladdy just wants to get married, Connie Allenbury has a protective wall up. Connie trusts no man, thinking they’re all after her money. No one can be huffy and turn her nose up in the air like Myrna Loy. And a cute little nose it is. Loy and Esther Williams are the “straight man” in this comic fare.  Myrna is perfect. You can see she “gets” the joke. She looks divine and is properly haughty, you know, as heiressesess are. She’s frigid, no wait…frosty. Those almond-shaped eyes of hers could cut you to shreds. But out on the floating lanai, we see Loy’s warmth and friendliness. There’s no doubt of her elegance and bearing in this movie.

Esther Williams plays Connie not quite as frosty as Loy; maybe more on the stuck-up side. My friend Wendy says of Williams:

“Esther was always the big prey in her movies, cool and aloof, but ultimately caught by the hero.”

‘The big prey.’ I like the sound of that. Esther always seemed to be the cold one in her films, chased and eventually warmed up and won over. And yes, by film’s end both Loy and Williams get warmed by their charming leading men. I love Esther and her rounded ways in this; she’s not as cheddar-sharp as Myrna. She’s at ease in her acting, very natural. There’s a regular girl underneath that shell of theirs. They both don’t really have much to do ( the Gladys role is the pivotal one, ) but they sure look great doing it. Believable. And dressed to the nines in the bargain. I have to chuckle at how M-G-M worked Esther into the water.

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WILLIAM POWELL / VAN JOHNSON – (( BILL CHANDLER ))

LIBELED LADY ( X )   EASY TO WED ( IV )

Both actors are good as the character: Bill Chandler. Powell was born to wear white tie and tails, and Johnson fills out his tuxedo very nicely. He’s a big guy. ( I swoon over white or cream-colored tux jackets men used to wear. Sigh!! ) They both handle light comedy well. Powell’s pitch is sophistication. He sounds upper crust. Johnson sounds a bit of a wise-ass and definitely all-American. I’ve no doubt both are ladies men. One could dabble with any society heiress or one of the 400, and the other brings it down a notch to simple American pleasures like dancing and ball games, and be more regular, down-to-earth. In both films, the duck hunting/fly fishing scene goes on much too long and is not funny to me at all but for an initial chuckle. This is like a commercial break for me. But I was happy to see Powell all loosey-goosey in the water, as limber as a fish.

Sometimes I think Powell is too stiff and stuffed a shirt. He might be too polite and mannered to get a girl in the clinches real quick. But I might have to eat those words; recently seeing Powell do a lot more of his thing in the early 30’s, I’d have to say his arm was always wrapped around some girl. Van Johnson seems more easy breezy. He’s boyish, makes jokes, is the butt of jokes. Don’t ask me why I crack up when Lucille Ball hurls insults at him ( “baboon” “ape” ) and Johnson says: “An ape can do anything a man…can…do. And let’s leave personalities out of this.”

LIBELED LADY ( XIII )   LIBELED LADY ( XIV )

I loved the maturity of Powell and Loy talking in the cabin; their real getting-to-know-each-other scene. I also loved the playfulness of Johnson and Williams playing marbles; gosh they’re so pretty together, aren’t they? Powell and Tracy have great chemistry with each other and THAT is the real find of “Libeled Lady” for me. But Johnson also knows how to handle his pal ( Keenan Wynn ) very well. They’ve got beautiful rhythm as well.

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SPENCER TRACY / KEENAN WYNN – (( WARREN HAGGERTY ))

LIBELED LADY ( IX )  EASY TO WED ( III )

The next time I say “Spencer Tracy is an un-sexy, boxy and granite-like man with little sense of humor,” would you just say to me: “D’uhhhh…’Libeled Lady’.” Thanks. See, the big takeaway I took away from “Libeled Lady” is the teamwork between Tracy and Powell. Why had I not notice that before? ( There are none so blind…  ) They are both so natural, speaking their lines as though they emanated from their own thoughts. They fluidly work off each other…Powell having the slightly upper hand since he’s got Tracy over a barrel in this plan. Their comic timing is impeccable. In fact, I like Tracy and Powell better than Tracy and Gable, and that’s sayin’ sumthin’. Powell and Tracy seem to be on the same plateau whereas working opposite Gable…well, he’s so alpha that it’s just off the hook in matching him. Tracy can dial up the infuriation or the somewhat hen-peckedness he is with Harlow while he also throws her under the bus. He plays more notes than Keenan Wynn.

And that’s not a bad thing; Tracy’s an actor and Wynn’s a comic.  With Wynn, you know what you’re getting: a RAT! And you smell a rat as soon as you see him coming. His “Warren” is more bombastic than Spencer Tracy and plays just one note: conniving, under-handed, double-crossing. Tracy is slightly subtler. But he’s just as devious and underhanded. Yeah, Tracy is the better actor, but Keenan is the better rat. I loved watching him navigate through this plot. Gladys is very clear: “If you don’t want to marry me just say so!” Both Warren Haggertys are willing to pimp Gladdy out at the drop of a newspaper headline. I liked both actors as Haggerty, but Wynn edges out Tracy because he’s so obvious. Wynn and Johnson have great chemistry together. ( “I’m bleeding. I’m bleeding. I AM bleeding!!” ) I’m not sure if either “Warren” really cared for Gladys or just didn’t want Bill to have her. But if you need a snake in the grass, I wouldn’t have Keenan Wynn any other way.

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JEAN HARLOW / LUCILLE BALL – (( GLADYS ))

LIBELED LADY ( VI ) EASY TO WED ( XIII )

I think Harlow and Lucy should kiss the hem of their agents’ trousers for getting them the role of Gladys. ( Alright…so maybe the standard 10% is thanks enough. ) Maybe I should be kissing their agents for getting these two gals such a great role. They really have the featured part of the movie. It all hinges on them putting the boys’ scheme into play and she’s got to play it two ways.

Whether she is blonde or redhead, HELL HATH NO FURY… What an entrance they both make, storming into the newsroom. ( When Lucy enters, papers fly. She is a hurricane. ) Harlow shines brightest in a showy role. She sinks her shimmery satin persona into you and doesn’t let go from the moment she bursts on the scene loaded for bear. And the bear is Spencer Tracy. I feel bad for Gladys. Doesn’t the movie try and make her seem like the bad guy by the end of this? Like she’s the fly in the ointment of love;  like she is the Shelley ( “A Place in the Sun” ) Winters albatross around Cupid’s neck? So SHE’s thwarting  Young Love? Oy vey! The girl just wants to get married.

LIBELED LADY ( II )

You need someone to toss a line better than anyone in the business, besides Eve Arden? Well you’ve got two of the best of them in these films, ( Harlow & Ball ) both proven masters. Harlow can dial it up or tone it down at will. She could pour on the purposely over-acting lovey dovey goo one minute, and then as soon as her ‘audience’ disappears, she’s slamming Powell the next. She  could be brassy, she could modulate her tone. I think of Tracy calling her up asking if she wants to get married. She’s in a satin cloud of a bed and answers: “What do you think?” I’m thinking that’s Harlow’s real voice. I love her good natured teasing when Powell has to learn fly fishing. ( “Remember, there’s a man on second.” ) I love when she “acts” the loving wife in front of others. In the car on the way to the Allenbury’s cabin, she practices the speech she’ll say when she busts up the joint between Bill and Connie as if she were Bernhardt. I liked her at the breakfast table when she just wants to talk to Bill during their ‘truce’ – see,  she’s developed some feelings for him. Poor girl, that’ll be her downfall.

EASY TO WED ( VI )

I love Lucy. Lucille Ball is fantastic as Gladys, too. We never knew what Harlow’s Gladys did for a living, but Lucy’s Gladys is a showgirl. She wears the hell out of those clothes. Her singing may be dubbed, but Lucy can still sell a dance number. ( I just love her umbrella toss at the end of the number when it doesn’t open! ) I love her yelling. But I love love love when she and Johnson goes back to Keenan Wynn’s office to say she’s not going through with the law suit. I crack up at her diction and love how she rolls her “R”s and enuciates: “Warren.” She’s gone high-brow. She’s good natured, but she’s a redhead. Her idle runs high, so don’t get her angry. Lucille Ball looks good, sounds good and sinks her teeth into this good role.

LIBELED LADY ( FURRED )    EASY TO WED ( I )

Faux bigamies, invalid divorces, the libel suit is dropped and everyone can live happily ever after. Except Gladys. Here is where it gets poignant when Gladys has to lose out. Bill, Connie and Warren have a good laugh at Gladys’ expense. And Gladys fighting back is sad. Lucy and Myrna handle that scene a little better than their counterparts. Lucy’s hurt puts a lump in my throat. But the lesson learned for all of them is you can’t steal love. Everyone winds up being with the right partner, and it all does end happily ever after in both films.

Again, my sincere thanks to BACKLOTS for letting my new blog play in the Dueling Divas sandbox with the big kids. If any one of you has not seen “Libeled Lady” or “Easy to Wed” you must put them in your dvd machine quick, fast and in a hurry. That is, if you like to laugh. They’re BOTH divas, and both gems in their own way.

( HOME )

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37 thoughts on “DUELING DIVAS: “Libeled Lady” vs. “Easy to Wed”

  1. What a great start on a cold, windy Saturday morning: time on The Couch.

    You really understand the qualities of all the players involved, Theresa, and you express them clearly and pointedly.

    It won’t surprise you to hear that I am not crazy about an Esther Williams movie, but as much as I like Lucille Ball and Van Johnson, Easy to Love is for me one of those remakes that makes me wonder Why?! It reminds me of some of the musical productions I saw when my daughters were in school. There are a few bright moments, and a couple of the kids are pretty good, but nobody, least of all Mr. Buzzell, is in a class with the people who made Libeled Lady unforgettable.

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    • Hi there. It’s blustery here too. Brooooooooooooooklyn! Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…

      First off, thank you for reading my post Bob, and your compliment on how I expressed what I saw. I know re-makes are a tricky thing. Some are done well, others don’t hit their mark and the question “Why?” is an easy one to ask, and sometimes difficult to answer. “Easy to Wed” works for me as a re-make and a standalone film. I like the premise of trying to counteract a libel suit, by suing the person themselves. Quite a scheme, and as usual, the hunter is captured by the game which I always find fun to see. I find the cast likeable, and I’m a fan of the actors. I think the ’46 version added its own mark to it all. “Libeled Lady” — undeniably a classic, and one of my FAVORITE films of the 1930’s. Harlow was terrific. I saw it at TCM’s film festival last year, in a packed crowed. Ha…seventy-eight years later, the audience was STILL laughing heartily. Thanx again for weighing in.

      …and if you get a chance ( and like the film ) catch “Twentieth Century” on TCM tonite at 8:00pm ( EST ). I’ll post about this film on Sunday.

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    • L0L!! Oh my…these computers are tricky. You’ve got to watch them every minute. LOL! So to respond to your corrected statement about the studios having so little faith in “old movies” I say…agreed.

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  2. Hi T.,

    Another entertaining addition. I’ll be looking out for Canterbury Tales on either my Apple-TV or netflix. Well-written (but watch those DASHES- some words don’t need to be separated like that, unless it’s part of your style) and also your grammar in some parts. (not easy to spot, I know)

    As for FRANCES GIFFORD (sigh) I saw her in Cry havoc. She had a face guys like me fell in love with; wide forehead, dark, immaculate eyebrows, and a somber smile.

    Keep ’em coming, kid.

    Rob

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    • Hi Rob. I am receiving your message which I hope me approving your comment is proof. I hope you can check out “The Canterbury Tale.” I’ve no idea if anyone will like what I recommend, but my hope is that my suggestions resonate with people. Frances Gifford. Yeah, she’s a pip. I like your description. You should see her in “Marriage Is A Private Affair” and also in “The Arnelo Affair.” I find her quite expressive.

      As for the dashes and grammar, this is my style. ( …Or how things are formatted on my computer. ) But do continue to enjoy my content. I truly appreciate the time you’re taking to read my work.

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  3. Very enjoyable review. I share your love for Gladys, and would love to see Lucille Ball’s take on it! I never knew they did a remake. It would be hard to top the original, but when the film takes a different spin, as this one seems to have done, it’s fun to see a great script in action again. Leah

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    • Hi there Leah. Thanks so much for checking out my post for the Blogathon. ( I see I have some reading to catch up on of other contributors. ) When you get a chance DO seek out “Easy to Wed” to see what Lucy, Van, Keenan and Esther Williams do with their take on these characters. Topping the original? Naaaah, they can’t do that. But if you just take it for its own face value I think ( I’m hoping ) that you find it enjoyable. M-G-M was a different place ten years later, and nobody could do what they did like they did. Lucy’s good. Check it out and let me know. Thanks again.

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  4. Great review & happy this blogathon has led me to your wonderful blog! I’m afraid my opinion is clouded by the fact that I haven’t seen Easy to Wed, but it would have to be pretty spectacular to surpass Libelled Lady, which for me is perfectly cast and just the right amount of lightweight. I love the Harlow-Powell marriage scene too. But I shouldn’t judge so hastily…!

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    • Helloooooo and thank you! I’m glad the little bread crumbs of the internet led you my way. “Libeled Lady” is one of the my favorite films of the 30’s; it’s waaaay up there. You’re not judging hastily. Hopefully you’ll get to see “Easy to Wed.” You’ll see, it won’t be a case of one being better than the other, but just two different takes on the same story. It’s a fun movie. I hear you about Harlow and Powell’s marriage scene – when Tracy gets the “telegram” that calls Powell away is a whole funny scene. Powell as Bill Chandler was a quick learner. He was about to put his hand near Gladys’ face again, and quickly moves it away ( for fear of getting bitten…again. ) It’s a gesture I wait for ev’ry time. I like after they’re pronounced man and wife and the group leaves the office, Harlow’s set to walk out with Tracy. He tells her to take Powell’s arm and the way she says: “I’m taking your arm.” Ha!!! No doubt, a brilliant movie. I like “Easy to Wed” too; the same way…but different. Check it out for yourself. Thanxx for reading! Come to think of it, I’ve got some reading to do myself; something about Garbo and Dietrich…….

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  5. Enjoyed your comparison of these two movies. Both movies have their virtues. I think this is one of those rare cases where the remake is as good as the original. (But then I’m a sucker for any movie that showcases Lucy’s fiery red hair. 😉 )

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    • I think Lucille Ball was one of the under-rated actresses of classic film. Yeah yeah we all know her “I Love Lucy” persona but if you think about some of her performances ( “Lured” “The Big Street” “Best Foot Forward” “Stagedoor” “Dance Girl Dance” “Without Love” ) she could do drama and comedy – sophisticated or broad. Maybe her greatest success in “…Lucy” undercuts that she was a good actress. Maybe her being the funny lady undercuts and makes us forget how beautiful she was. Thanks for reading me Bonnie. I’m glad you liked it.

      Lucille Ball

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    • Come to think of it, yeah Bob…Lucille Ball WAS acting on “I Love Lucy.” I was just thinking that later generations perhaps, who only knew her from “…Lucy” might not think she could do anything else. And some movie buffs might forget as well. The beauty of TCM and their spotlighting a month of a certain actor, especially if they go close to the chronology of their career, is that we can see how they developed and grew. Speaking of which, does anybody know if TCM ever FEATURED Lucille Ball as their “STAR OF THE MONTH”? I agree with you about the gift of comedy, Bob. Many of the greats handled comedy and drama with equal aplomb: Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, William Powell, Katharine Hepburn, Ann Sheridan and many many more.

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  6. I’ve not seen “Easy to Wed” and wasn’t aware that it was a remake of “Libelled Lady” – one of my faves. However, I really liked your comparisons, and you’ve made me want to see “Easy to Wed” right away.

    Great idea for the blogathon…and congrats on your new blog! 🙂

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    • Thank you for reading, Silver Screenings. You sure ought to check out “Easy to Wed.” It’s a fun film. And if I’ve made you want to see it, all the better. ( My powers of persuasion astound even me ). Thanxxx again.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a fun read! Thanks, Theresa! And I am now following your lovely blog… ❤

    This may sound weird, but to me, "Libeled Lady" is a city movie, and "Easy to Wed" is a suburban one. One is sharper, faster, and a bit more cynical, and the other goes down more smoothly, like a milkshake. Being a Brooklyn girl myself, I lean toward "Libeled Lady." I also think it was Harlow's best role. The way she slings it back and forth with both Tracy and Powell is priceless. And Myrna is Myrna, meaning perfect.

    I agree that Powell was a bit looser in the 30s than in the 40s; I still loved him then, but boy, in his earlier films, he was such fabulous fun! So loose-limbed and goofy.

    Thank you for a wonderful read — from my own couch!!

    Warmest wishes — and stay safe in the snow,

    Janet

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    • Hi Janet, thank you for checking out my blog ( and “following” it?? Totally a bonus for me, thank you! ) Your ‘city’ / ‘suburban’ comparison is not weird. I get what you mean ( and “Yay!” to Brooklyn. ) Harlow…was a dream. For me, “Bombshell” is my favorite Harlow film. Thanks again for reading. Wait…what? Snow? More…snow? Ack!

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    • Yes Michelle…you’ve got to check out “Easy To Wed.” I’m not saying it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread…but it is fun and likable. See it. And then let me know what you think. Thanks for reading. I appreciate it.

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  8. Interesting and very informative comparisons. I’ve only seen the original, but I just added EASY TO WED to my list of movies to watch. I need to see Lucille Ball in that Jean Harlow role!

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    • Hi Le – I hope you get to see “Easy to Wed.” It’s the same, but different from the original; has its own flavor. I think Van’s okay. He’s not William Powell…but who is? I’ve seen several of Van Johnson’s movies where I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Try “High Barbaree” or “State of the Union” or “Bottom of the Bottle.” Enjoyed your piece on deHavilland too! Yay for blogathons.

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  9. Thanks for this wonderful MATCH GAME contest, darlin’. I tend to overlook EASY TO WED because LIBELED LADY was a First-Ever-Noticed film for me and Jean Harlow. From her character’s growth and presence in this film, I had to go back and discover all the others, but LIBELED remains “my first-ever Jean Harlow film”. The other 3 characters grow at the normal pace of the dialog and sets, but Jean blossoms from this bleach-blonde nag into this wonderfully thoughtful conspirator. Of course, the film’s script closes with her reverting to the overjoyed, superiorly-forgiving blonde again – but she DID win her conspiracy! Long before some of us wondered about Beatles vs Stones, or Ginger vs. MaryAnn, I guess women could wonder “Powell or Spencer”?

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    • Powell and Tracy was the real find for me as a team. Their give-and-take is wonderful. I wish I could remember the first time I saw all the actors and actresses I like. I really only vividly remember first seeing Merle Oberon in”The Cowboy and the Lady” and Lizabeth Scott in “You Came Along.” I think with us humans, we’re imprinted by what we see first, sometimes. In “Libeled Lady” I think Powell changed, and Loy changed warming those frosty edges. You’re right about Harlow. Seems like Tracy might always be a rat. ( My favorite Harlow film is “Bombshell” 1933 ).

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  10. Pingback: MY TIP TOP TOP TEN FAVORITE FILMS OF THE 1930’s | CineMaven's: ESSAYS from the COUCH

  11. I just found your post and thought it was terrific. I absolutely love Libeled Lady. The four stars were just perfect. I think William Powell is wonderful in everything I’ve seen. Very underestimated actor in my opinion. A lot of people remember him from 1934 on, but his silent were rated very highly. He had some really great movies from 1930 to The Thin Man.

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    • Thanks so much CC. I, too, love “Libeled Lady.” ( And I’m pretty fond of “Easy to Wed” too ). I’m not the biggest William Powell fan in the world; that’s why I keep feeling I’m re-discovering him. I should just get it through my thick skull once and for all that William Powell is really good. I don’t know his silent films very well. In fact I’ve only seen one “The Last Command.” Thank you again for enjoying my post on a great classic film. And now that you know my “essays from the couch” exists, I hope you choose to read some more. Thanx!

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