Seeming even more innocent and utopian today than its era’s musicals and westerns, the Depression-era screwball comedy also required a good deal more craft, zeal, and sophistication. This 1936 Jack Conway entry in the genre’s horse race—easily the least remembered film from Warner’s new, six-film Classic Comedies Collection—is in fact an undistinguished film, but the warmth and wit radiating from it like a child’s devotion make it perhaps the most paradigmatic. Myrna Loy and William Powell spar with smiles, Jean Harlow and Powell (engaged at the time, bizarrely enough) loiter amid the cockeyed plot’s multiple misunderstandings and schemes, and Spencer Tracy seems to be wondering where Clark Gable is. The bounce and glow of its ordinariness are infectious; it’s almost as if this is what gorgeous, fascinating, old-school movie characters do on their day off. The box almost obligatorily contains Howard Hawks’s masterful Bringing Up Baby (1938), George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story (1940), Cukor’s Dinner at Eight (1933), Ernst Lubitsch’s Carole Lombard elegy-in-retrospect To Be or Not to Be (1942; see Rack Focus below), and Gregory La Cava’s Stage Door (1937). The usual golden-age additionals—nostalgic bio-docs on the stars and directors, commentaries by professional Hollywoodistas like Peter Bogdanovich, vintage cartoons and shorts—are in abundance.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 15, 2005