MAY IS EARLY 3-STRIP TECHNICOLOR MONTH
The only American screwball comedy in Technicolor, 1937’s NOTHING SACRED finally comes to home video in a version it deserves.
As the Thirties passed the midway mark, and, as the Depression was winding down, David O. Selznick amped up his desire to see more perfected three-strip Technicolor on the worldwide screens. To the famed producer, it was time to stop just showcasing the process for the way it looked, and to integrate it into the various genres. Primarily, he wanted to crank down the “ooh-and-ahh” factor, striving for a more “natural color” look. Screwball comedies seemed a ripe choice, so he hired The Front Page‘s Ben Hecht to pen a wacky script of modern lovers. As usual, Mr. Hecht (along with James Street, from his story; plus, uncredited, Ring Lardner, Jr., Moss Hart, Budd Schulberg, George Oppenheimer, Sidney Howard, Robert Carson, Selznick himself AND director William A. Wellman – Jeez, what a load of wiseacres!) didn’t let his employer down.
In NOTHING SACRED, spinning its tale in a mere 74-minutes, we are quickly introduced to wily New York City reporter Wally Cook – a solid gold-plated tabloid dude who will stoop to any level for a story, much to the contradictory delight (circulation)/dismay (lawsuits) of his publisher/editor (wait for it), Oliver Stone. The opening, one of my favorite parts in the movie (or in ANY screwball riot) has Manhattan’s cafe society/political royalty paying tribute to the visiting Sultan of Marzipan – a banquet ruined by the arrival of the potentate’s wife and kids. “That’s him!,” she angrily points to her errant spouse, in reality a Harlem bootblack.
The backlash Cook receives (banishment to the basement-housed obits column) is likely to become vocationally lethal – unless the prank-driven writer redeems himself. Desperate, Wally discovers a six-line squib that smacks of the stuff gullible suckers’ll eat up. In Warsaw, VT, Hazel Flagg, a young woman, has been fatally exposed to radium, unhappily spending her final days hoping to spend a $200 stipend the company who poisoned the unlucky female has bestowed upon her. And she wants to do in style, along the Great White Way. Perfect, eh?
Even more so when Flagg turns out to be totally gorgeous.
Soon, Wally, Hazel and her personal physician, Dr. Downer, are planning a grand sendoff in New York City – commencing with the key to the city, unending tributes (including a deli offering extra cheese and baloney), and culminating in Hazel Flagg Day – with one small unrecorded detail. Hazel’s quack sawbones made a mistake – she ain’t kicking off.
Players being played was never so much fun…or colorful, and, indeed, moviegoers gasped in awe at the many second unit Technicolor shots of Manhattan (we do too, seeing the city in three-strip, ca. 1937).
Of course, you needed a no-nonsense, machine-gun-paced director to keep things moving, and Selznick got him with William Wellman – not known for comedies in the talkie era, but who had done some silent burlesque gems (When Husbands Flirt, The Boob, You Never Know Women, The Cat’s Pajamas). And, natch, ya needed two top leads to seamlessly bounce situations off each other – verbally and physically – from romance to one memorable moment involving fisticuffs.Enter Fredric March (Hecht originally wanted John Barrymore, but Selznick absolutely refused) and Carole Lombard (hmmm…would have been interesting to see a reunion of the Twentieth Century stars…in Technicolor), who handled rapid-fire dialog with sublime panache (Lombard’s comment/delivery to her co-conspirator doc, once she discovers the truth, and decides to ride the gravy train for all it’s worth is timing ambrosia: “It’s kind of startling to be brought to life twice – and each time in Warsaw!”).
W. Howard Greene shot the picture brilliantly, and no less than Oscar Levant scored it with an almost Gershwinian smooth sophistication (there’s even Raymond Scott quirky band music in a nightclub scene). And what a supporting cast, too! An array of 1937’s Who’s Who Character Actor Heaven, comprising Margaret Hamilton, Walter Connolly (as Stone), Charles Winninger (as Downer), Sig Ruman, Frank Fay, Maxie Rosenbloom, Olin Howard, Bobby Barber, Billy Barty, George Chandler (the director’s human good luck charm), Ann Doran, Jinx Falkenburg, Hedda Hopper, Leonid Kinskey, Charles Lane, Edwin Maxwell, Mary MacLaren, John Qualen, Aileen Pringle, Monty Woolley, Ernest Whitman, and Hattie McDaniel.
A literal image problem with this title made it a notorious item for many years. Reissues in the 1940s, when Technicolor was in high demand (and the distributor wanted to save a buck), relegated the prints to the inferior CineColor. Worse, CineColor was a two-strip process (not until 1952 would there be a SuperCineColor three-strip edition), so, without decades-later technology of CRIs (Color Reversal Intermediates), muddy, murky results were the throwback fate of a three-strip movie being reduced to two-strip. Adding to the dilemma was the fact that CineColor had no emulsion – it was double-sided base, which rendered the images soft to boot. More indignation when this title fell into public domain and dupes of dupes of dupes from 16MM CineColor flooded the market, incorrectly causing armchair movie archivists to conclude that early color sucked. Lombard’s cautious quote during production (that color can make you “look screwy”) didn’t aid the dilemma.
Well, hold on to your hats, folks, cause Kino-Lorber, has secured a new 2K scanned 35MM master, restored from the original fine grain elements. It is truly the best version of NOTHING SACRED that I’ve ever seen! In addition to the outstanding video, there’s excellent supplemental audio commentary by William Wellman, Jr., and, the theatrical trailer).
While NOTHING SACRED isn’t my favorite screwball comedy, it’s definitely up there. And for fans of the stars, Technicolor, and the era, this Blu-Ray’s a must!
NOTHING SACRED. Color. Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics. CAT # K23099. SRP: $29.95.
Hey, collectors, click on Kino-Lorber’s site to take advantage of a sale currently offering this wonderful Blu-Ray at 80% OFF! https://www.klstudioclassics.com/search?q=film%7C%7CNothing+Sacred+%28Restored+Version%29&dvd=off&dvd=on&bluray=off&bluray=on