True Confession (1937)

I had never heard of True Confession before today, and was happy I found it, because Carole Lombard is incredibly funny in this screwball comedy. Lombard grew up with two older brother in Fort Wayne, Indiana and developed into something of a natural tomboy. It was this image that was carried over to the screen after her parents divorced and her mother took her to Los Angeles, where she got bit roles in films while still a teenager. After short stints with Pathé and Fox Film, she was signed to Paramount, where she was reinvented as a glamour girl. When the cameras were not running, she became known for her humorous outbursts of swearing, which, coupled with her new glamorous image, earned her the nickname “the profane angel.”  In 1935, she starred in her first comedy, Hands Across the Table. Her costar Fred McMurray reportedly had a hard time being funny for the camera, but Lombard was a natural comedienne.

McMurray and Lombard reteamed for Swing High, Swing Low (1937) and True Confessions, in which he plays a defense lawyer who will only take clients who are truly innocent, making him struggling defense lawyer, and she plays his aspiring writer wife, who has trouble saying two sentences without including at least one lie. To put some money in the family’s empty coffers, she takes a job as secretary to a wealthy businessman, who expects her to work while sitting on his lap. After being chased around his desk, she returns for her hat and coat and is nabbed by a police detective (Edgar Kennedy, who I knew from his many appearances in Marx Brothers films). It seems the businessman has been shot. Her husband defends her in court and convinces her that she has to plead guilty and claim self-defense, as a not-guilty plea would be too hard to prove. Even though she is innocent, she lets him believe she is guilty. Halfway through the film, John Barrymore shows up as a drunken louse (probably the only kind of role he could play by this late stage in his career) attempting blackmail, and she is forced to finally tell the truth her husband, who has become a star attorney.

Lombard’s ditzy comedy is what makes the film, and one can recognize shades of it in the later work of Lucille Ball. Indeed, Lombard was a friend and mentor to Ball, tutoring her at RKO when she was preparing for her first starring role in The Big Street. Ball later claimed that when she was considering the risky move to TV, Lombard, who had died in a war-time plane crash, visited her in a dream and told her to go for it.

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