If screwball comedy has a personification, it is in the beautiful and frantic visage of Carole Lombard. Immensely likable, Lombard shone best in roles that encouraged her to let-it-rip, to bring an erotic charge to her pratfalls and verbal rat-a-tat zingers. Nothing Sacred follows in this mode, and while it may not be a top-shelf masterpiece, it is a great, tremendously enjoyable second-shelf pleaser.
The story finds Lombard’s small-town girl incorrectly diagnosed with radium poisoning, taken in by a big-city reporter (Fredric March) as a way of gaining back his prestige job, and trapped by a swirling publicity machine. The script takes a moment to get going, one must endure some of the early too-cutesy small-town hick caricatures before hitting the good stuff. Once we’re off and running in New York City Nothing Sacred finds its madcap footing and never slows down.
A jaundice about journalism permeates the film, which should come as no surprise since it originated from Ben Hecht’s poison pen. Hecht’s probably best-known for writing The Front Page, which was remade as His Girl Friday, possibly his most beloved film adaptation. Much like those films, Nothing Sacred takes the piss out of reporters looking to make a name by exploiting a big story. The love story is a bit harder to believe since Lombard and March don’t generate much heat together.
If Nothing Sacred has a major flaw, it’s the lack of chemistry between the leads. Lombard feels at home, and her continual mental deterioration as the plot goes on is pleasurable to watch. As her guilt over pulling one over on March grows, she throws herself fully into cracked displays of anxiety and worry. A scene where she is drunk at a party in her honor, giddy and carefree while absorbing all of the attention, only to descend into tears is wonderful. March, by comparison, seems stiff and ill at ease. In dramatic parts he flourished, but he seems miscast here. Knowing that the role was originally written for that great blustery glazed ham John Barrymore only exacerbates the gulf between their approaches to the material. A reunion of the Twentieth Century co-stars would have been a dream to witness.
Lombard’s lone Technicolor film before her untimely death in 1942 at age 34, Nothing Sacred allows her daffy talents to shine brightly. No one looked quite as gorgeous as her while doubling over in hangover pains. Nothing Sacred is a sour comedy which lets Lombard be the creamy delight to balance out the palate. While not quite as remarkable an achievement as My Man Godfrey or To Be or Not to Be, Nothing Sacred is definitely essential viewing for fans of the actress, or people curious about where to start to get a feel for her gifts.