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Nothing Sacred (February 24, 2011)

In 1935, David Selznick produced his last picture at MGM, A Tale of Two Cities. He left MGM to make movies as an independent producer. His independent film production efforts were backed by several members of the Whitney family, wealthy people from New York. Jock Whitney, the principal investor, had also bought a stake in Technicolor in 1932, after the three-strip process had been perfected. Several of Selznick’s early independent productions used the new process, including A Star is Born, The Garden of Allah, and tonight’s picture Nothing Sacred.

The script was written by Ben Hecht and the movie was directed by William Wellman. It began production in June, 1937 and finished two months later. It was released in November of that same year. In retrospect the story of this film seems like a reflection of Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes To Town of the previous year – both deal with Vermonters visited by New Yorkers, who draw them back to the city. I’ve never thought of Fredric March, the male lead, as a comic actor, but, remembering this movie, it is his moments that I recall first – working in the newspaper office and visiting the small town in Vermont. Carole Lombard is always a pleasure to watch. The supporting actors, including Charles Winninger as the small town doctor, Walter Connolly as the newspaper editor, Sig Rumann as the specialist from Vienna, and Margaret Hamilton as the drugstore lady, give performances that are among the jewels of 30s screwball comedies. Troy Brown and Hattie McDaniel appear as a black couple. I’d say that the plot makes fun of racism, since it points out that our views of people are slanted by who we think they are, and not who they really are. But some of the common stereotypes of African Americans you see in other films of this period also appear here. I like the music, mostly by Oscar Levant with a little bit by Raymond Scott.

The critic David Thomson wrote, “Nothing Sacred is such a relief in its assumption that movies might just as well be quick, throwaway, cynical, and funny as monuments to something or other. I don’t mean to say Nothing Sacred is perfect—it’s not as searching or as magical as (My Man) Godfrey or Bringing Up Baby. But it’s a true reflection of the “cockeyed” wisdom—that the world was a ridiculous place and it would be a good thing if a few smart young people saw that and said so in a way that makes you laugh.”

A word about the print: Nothing Sacred is in the public domain. That means that nearly anyone who produces DVDs can (and does) sell copies of this picture. That usually leads to a lot of bad transfers, with poor picture and sound, sold for low prices. I selected this version to show because the reviews said the color was good, and the color does not disappoint. However, the opening card for the movie said “photographed in Technicolor” when it was produced, and that card is modified in this print to say “photographed in color”. That suggests to me that the print may have been colorized by computer, in the manner that has been popular over the last ten or fifteen years. No matter. The picture looks great, and I hope you enjoy watching Nothing Sacred with me tonight.