Nothing Sacred (film)

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.

Nothing Sacred
Film poster
Directed byWilliam A. Wellman
Produced byDavid O. Selznick
Written byBen 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
StarringCarole Lombard
Fredric March
Music byOscar Levant
CinematographyW. Howard Greene
Edited byJames E. Newcom
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • November 25, 1937 (1937-11-25)
Running time
77 minutes
CountryUnited States

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.

This was Lombard's only Technicolor film. She stated that this film was one of her personal favorites.


New York newspaper reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) is blamed for reporting a Harlem bootblack Ernest Walker (Troy Brown) as an African nobleman hosting a charity event. Cook claims he was unaware, but he is demoted to writing obituaries. He begs his boss Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly) for another chance, and points out a story about a woman, Hazel Flagg, dying of radium poisoning. Cook is sent to the (fictional) town of Warsaw, Vermont, to interview Flagg (Carole Lombard). Cook finally locates Hazel, who is crying both because her doctor has told her that she is not dying and because she realizes she might be stuck in Vermont for her whole life. Unaware of this, Cook invites Hazel and her doctor to New York as guests 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. She and Wally fall in love, and he asks her to marry him even though he still thinks she's dying. After a medical exam by three independent doctors it is finally discovered that Hazel is not really dying, and city officials and Stone decide that it would be better to avoid embarrassment by having it seem that she went off to die, "like an elephant". Hazel and Wally get married and quietly set sail for the tropics.


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

A boxing world champion, Maxie Rosenbloom gave Lombard boxing lessons to prepare her for her fight scene with Fredric March.


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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[2] 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 reason that the film is considered among the most celebrated screwball comedies 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.


The film recorded a loss of $400,000 at the box office.[1] In July 2018, it was selected to be screened in the Venice Classics section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.[4]

In 1965, the film entered the public domain in the United States because the copyright owners did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[5]

Because of its public domain status, the film is a staple of bargain bin releases and collections. Although it was generally in watchable condition, until recently the best DVD was a US region 0 disc from Lumivision, later reissued by Sling Shot. In 2011, Kino Lorber issued the film on DVD and Blu-ray, mastered from a 2K scan of Selznick's personal nitrate print, preserved by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department. In 2018, Kino reissued their Blu-ray, this time mastered from a 2K scan of Disney's 1999 restoration, carried out on behalf of ABC, holder of most of the Selznick library).[6]


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. David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 262
  2. "Nothing Sacred". Turner Classic Movies.
  3. "Calendar - UCLA Film & Television Archive".
  4. "Biennale Cinema 2018, Venice Classics". Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  5. 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
  6. "First Person: Restoring Film with Digital Recombination". Retrieved 23 November 2018.
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