Nothing Sacred (film)

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This article is about a film. For other uses, see Nothing Sacred.
Nothing Sacred
Nothing Sacred (film).jpg
Film poster
Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by David O. Selznick
Written by Ben Hecht (screenplay)
with uncredited contributions from:
Budd Schulberg
Ring Lardner Jr.
Dorothy Parker
Sidney Howard
Moss Hart
George S. Kaufman
Robert Carson
Based on Letter to the Editor
1937 short story
by James H. Street
Starring Carole Lombard
Fredric March
Music by Oscar Levant
Cinematography W. Howard Greene
Edited by James E. Newcom
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • November 25, 1937 (1937-11-25)
Running time
77 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,262,000[1]

Nothing Sacred is an American Technicolor screwball comedy film directed in 1937 by William A. Wellman, produced by David O. Selznick, and starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March. with a supporting cast featuring Charles Winninger and Walter Connolly. Ben Hecht was credited with the screenplay based on a story by James H. Street, and an array of additional writers, including Ring Lardner, Jr., Budd Schulberg, Dorothy Parker, Sidney Howard, Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman and Robert Carson made uncredited contributions.

The lush, Gershwinesque music score was by Oscar Levant, with additional music by Alfred Newman and Max Steiner and a swing number by Raymond Scott's Quintette. The film was shot in Technicolor by W. Howard Greene and edited by James E. Newcom, and was a Selznick International Pictures production distributed by United Artists. In 1965, the film entered the public domain (in the United States) due to the claimants' failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[2]


New York newspaper reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) is blamed for passing off Harlem bootblack Ernest Walker (Troy Brown) as an African nobleman hosting a charity event (despite his claims of not knowing this was false). Cook is demoted to writing obituaries. He begs his boss Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly) for another chance. Wally is sent to the (fictional) town of Warsaw, Vermont, to interview Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a woman supposedly dying of radium poisoning. Cook finally locates Hazel, who is crying because her doctor has told her that she is not dying. Unaware of this, he invites her to New York as the guest of the Morning Star newspaper.

The newspaper uses her story to increase its circulation. She receives a ticker tape parade and the key to the city, and becomes an inspiration to many. In addition, she and Wally fall in love. When it is finally discovered that Hazel is not really dying, city officials decide that it would be better to avoid embarrassment by having it seem that she committed suicide. Hazel and Wally get married and quietly set sail for the tropics.


Carole Lombard
Margaret Hamilton as Drugstore Lady

According to William Wellman Jr., Janet Gaynor had originally been cast as Hazel Flagg to follow up on the success of A Star is Born (1937). However, after William Wellman Sr. met Carole Lombard, he convinced Selznick to cast her.


Carole Lombard in Nothing Sacred
Fredric March and Carole Lombard

The first screwball comedy filmed in color, Nothing Sacred also represents the first use in a color film of process effects, montage and rear screen projection. Backgrounds for the rear projection were filmed on the streets of New York. Paramount Pictures and other studios refined this technique in their subsequent color features.[3]

Ben Hecht is credited with writing the screenplay in two weeks on a train. He adapted the story "Letter to the Editor" by James H. Street which had been first been published in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan.[4] Hecht wrote a role for his friend John Barrymore in the film, but David Selznick refused to use him as Barrymore had become by then an incurable alcoholic. This caused a rift between Hecht and Selznick, and Hecht walked off the picture.[3] Budd Schulberg and Dorothy Parker were called in to write the final scenes and several others also made contributions to the screenplay, including: David O. Selznick, William Wellman, Sidney Howard, Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman and Robert Carson.

One of the reasons the film is considered among the most celebrated screwball comedies of all time is that underneath the humor it incorporates sharply cynical themes of corruption and dishonesty. This film, along with Hecht's The Front Page (1931) and its 1940 remake His Girl Friday with Cary Grant, caricatures the chicanery to which some newspapers resorted in order to get a "hot" story.

This film (along with Selznick's A Star Is Born), despite being in the public domain, was released on DVD in 2011 by Kino Classics in transfers made from 35mm nitrate Technicolor prints preserved by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department and authorized by the estate of David O. Selznick. Prior to this, most home video releases of both films had rather poor quality color. The Museum of Modern Art has partially restored both films to their Technicolor splendor. In 1999, Walt Disney Pictures (on behalf of ABC, holder of most of the Selznick library) had fully restored the film, but this full restoration has yet to be released on DVD or Blu-ray. Since Disney/ABC performed a full restoration, it is far superior to what has been released on home video, including the release by Kino Classics.[5]


The film recorded a loss of $400,000 at the box office.[1]


Ben Hecht's screenplay was also the basis of a Broadway musical, Hazel Flagg (1953) with Helen Gallagher, as well as Living It Up (1954), a comedy film starring Dean Martin in the Winninger role, Jerry Lewis in the Lombard role (as Homer Flagg), and Janet Leigh in the March role.


  1. ^ a b David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 262
  2. ^ Fishman, Stephen (2010), The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More (5th ed.), Nolo (retrieved via Google Books), ISBN 1-4133-1205-5, retrieved 2010-10-31 
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ "First Person: Restoring Film with Digital Recombination". Retrieved 11 November 2012. 

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