Friday, 7 October 2011

Carole Lombard

Since it is Carole Lombard's birthday I'll take the opportunity to post some clips. She was one of the greatest of comediennes, even though she could do drama as well. She had a very interesting voice, and a slightly otherworldly allure. She was made for screwball comedy, perhaps because she was a bit of a screwball herself. It is a sad thing that she died as young as 33 (in a plane crash in the winter of 1942), but she had at least eight good years, when she became the highest paid female star in Hollywood. Her big break came in 1934 when she starred in the milestone masterpiece Twentieth Century. It was Howard Hawks's first screwball comedy (and one of my top ten favourite films), and it is pure anarchy from start to finish.

One of her more peculiar films is Swing High, Swing Low (1937). In it she plays a girl on a cruise ship who meets a man in Panama and stays there with him. So far it is a musical comedy, with the man (played by Fred MacMurray) being a trumpet player. When he gets a job in New York the tone of the film shifts dramatically. She gets more and more lonely in Panama while he is living a grand life in the big city, and forgets to write to her. Finally she follows him there, and telegraphs for him to meet her in the harbour. He isn't there. She goes to a hotel, and tries to locate him but nobody knows where he is. She gets the number to a woman whom he performs with and calls her. He answers, but doesn't recognise her voice. So she stands in the dark in the hotel room and whispers, panic stricken, to herself "What shall I do now?" It is a heartbreaking scene, beautifully shot and acted, as in a film by Max Ophüls, and it captures the full range of her talents.

That one was directed by Mitchell Leisen, and he also directed Lombard and MacMurray in Hands Across the Table (1935), another great film, and a tender love story. It might be Leisen's best. Great is also the biting satire Nothing Sacred (1937), scripted, like Twentieth Century, by Ben Hecht, and directed by William Wellman. Her greatest hit was perhaps My Man Godfrey (1936). She also did a comedy with Alfred Hitchcock, Mr and Mrs' Smith (1941), but I've never warmed to it for some reason. Then she made her final film, which was released after her death, To Be or Not To Be, Ernst Lubitsch's brave and magnificent satire of Nazism. It shows her in all her glory and, as in Twentieth Century, she plays a headstrong actress.

But now let's look at some clips. It was as usual tricky to find my favourite parts, so there's considerably less than I had hoped...

The first one is from To Be or Not To Be, an illicit scene between Lombard and Robert Stack. This one I love.

Here's a dance number between her and George Raft, from Bolero (1934). (The dance begins after about a minute.)

And here's the whole of Nothing Sacred, if you've got 80 minutes to spare.

And here's another one from To Be or Not To Be, a film in which nothing is what it seems to be.

2011-10-08 I noticed a few misplaced words and a missing title so I've updated it just a bit.


  1. Wonderful tribute to Lombard, and I am going to make this an honorary entry in the blogathon at my classic Hollywood site dedicated to her, "Carole & Co." ( Thank you so much!

  2. Great clips! Although I have to say Carole looked 100% better in B&W. But then that was the case with most stars with the harsh lighting.

  3. Hey, thanks for your kind comments! Much appreciated.