William A. Wellman was the wrong man to helm a Ben Hecht newspaper comedy, but he bullied his way thru two: ROXIE HART/’42 (which grew into the musical CHICAGO/’02) and this one about the small-town gal dying of radium-poisoning who briefly becomes the Toast of NYC. Too bad she’s perfectly healthy. It’s certainly breathtaking cynical, Hecht was an equal opportunity skewerer, but alas not breathtakingly funny. Everyone’s in there trying . . . too hard: reporter Fredric March, editor Walter Connolly, doctor Charles Winninger & Carole Lombard as the suffering patient. The first half of the film works best, especially the famous scenes in small town New England (where a little kid dashes out from behind a fence to bite March on the leg!) or during the show-biz tributes to Lombard’s fortitude (horseflesh & strippers @ a nightclub and a bell-tolling moment of silence @ the pro-wrestling match). But Wellman’s films rarely live up to their potential*, plus you can feel the hand of producer David O Selznick weighing things down with showmanship & TechniColor. And a botched ending that feels like a failed rewrite because it is a failed rewrite. And not by Hecht. At least, it’s now possible to see a decent copy since KINO has trumped the faded old Public Domain ‘dupes’ with an edition sourced from the Selznick Estate copy.
DOUBLE-BILL: The number of first-rate Screwball Comedies can be toted up on the digits (fingers & toes) of a single human being. Even Lombard, the Queen of the Genre, only got a few great ones. MY MAN GODFREY/’36 shows her at her enchanting best.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Irene Mayer Selznick (daughter of Louis B., wife of David O. & by general consensus the smartest gal in town) thought Wellman the biggest phony in the biz. And while he does have some convincing early credits, it’s hard to work up much of an argument with her, though some might point to THE OX-BOW INCIDENT/’43.