Those who bemoan the public's sometimes low opinion of journalists should watch "Nothing Sacred," a 1937 comedy showing that scorn for the press is hardly new.
Restored in its original Technicolor on a Kino DVD, the film is one of Hollywood's funniest putdowns of the Fourth Estate.
Fredric March plays Wally Cook, a shady NYC reporter who visits a Vermont town to interview Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a local woman supposedly dying of radium poisoning. He wants to bring Hazel back to the big city, where he plans to serialize her story for his paper.
Unknown to Wally, Hazel has just been told by her soused doctor (Charles Winninger) that she's been misdiagnosed and isn't dying.
Indeed, nothing is sacred in this tiny town filled with narrow-minded nasties who won't even talk to Wally without being paid.
Screenwriter Ben Hecht, a colorful former Chicago journalist who co-wrote the classic newsroom comedy "The Front Page" with Charles MacArthur, knew the subject he was lampooning.
But director William Wellman, known as "Wild Bill" from his days as a World War I fighter pilot, seemed like an odd choice for a screwball comedy. At the time, Wellman was best known as the director of "Wings" (1927), the first film to win a best-picture Oscar, and "The Public Enemy" (1931), which made Jimmy Cagney a star.
Still, Wellman had a great sense of timing and relished the man-vs.-woman high jinks at the center of this kind of comedy. In the most famous scene in "Nothing Sacred," Wally and Hazel go toe-to-toe, semi-affectionately slugging each other.
Wellman demonstrated his comic flair again in 1942, when he directed Ginger Rogers in the Roaring Twenties spoof "Roxie Hart," which was the basis for the musical "Chicago."
March's best-known work was in serious films like "The Best Years of Our Lives." In "Nothing Sacred," he relishes the opportunity to act goofy.
Yet the film belongs to Lombard, a rarity: a truly beautiful woman who was a great comedian.
Five years after "Nothing Sacred" and three years after marrying Clark Gable, Lombard died in a plane crash in Nevada while returning home from a war bond rally. She was 33.